ITHACA, N.Y.—”My brother didn’t deserve what happened to him,” said Quinn Godfrey as she addressed a packed Tompkins County courtroom during victim impact statements Friday. Alan Godfrey, killed on July 20, 2021 by William Marshall, was Quinn’s youngest sibling. “It’s hard. This never should have happened.”
An emotional two days of sentencing hearings came to an end Friday afternoon as Judge Joseph Cassidy issued a 20-year sentence to Marshall with an additional five years of post-release supervision. Marshall, 41 years old, had already pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter in February, meaning these hearings were solely held to determine how long his incarceration would be. It is short of the maximum sentence of 25 years, which had been sought by the Tompkins County District Attorney’s office, led by Assistant District Attorney Andrew Bonavia in court.
Cassidy’s decision concluded the endlessly tragic case that began with Marshall being charged in March 2022 with second-degree murder and weapons offenses for killing Godfrey. Marshall, though, invoked the extreme emotional disturbance defense, acknowledging that he killed Godfrey but insisted it was because Godfrey had been tormenting Marshall’s developmentally disabled younger brother for years, consistently demanding money from him under threat of physical harm or the release of sexually explicit photographs.
The allegations of prolonged abuse were substantiated by Marshall’s uncle, James, who testified on Thursday that the Marshall family believes around $40,000 was taken in total. Police body camera footage presented on Thursday showed an interview given to police by a family friend of Godfrey who stated she witnessed him make Marshall’s younger brother give him money on at least one occasion and that others were aware of it.
Friday’s proceedings featured victim impact statements from three of Godfrey’s siblings and his mother, who was on the phone with Godfrey when he was killed and called it “the most horrific thing I could ever go through,” along with closing arguments delivered by Bonavia and Ray Schlather, Marshall’s attorney. Bonavia and the four members of the Godfrey family all asked for Judge Cassidy to impose the maximum sentence on Marshall, who also delivered his own remarks.
Marshall detailed receiving two calls from his brother the night of the killing. He said he told his panicking brother to calm down during the first call, when his brother told him Godfrey was outside of his apartment again demanding money. When the second call came, Marshall said he snapped after hearing the fear in his brother’s voice. Marshall had been aware of the problem for several years—his uncle testified that Marshall ended up hospitalized with serious injuries after a motorcycle accident that occurred after Marshall had gone to an address where he believed Godfrey lived, but was unable to find him. But Marshall said it was the first time his brother had called him while a negative interaction between him and Godfrey was actively unfolding.
Marshall continued that he regrets killing Godfrey and should have handled the situation differently.
“I would give anything to go back and change this,” Marshall said.
He said that Godfrey had been “terrorizing” his brother for years, but also spoke about his own substance abuse issues and how they had contributed to his decision-making. A forensic psychiatrist had said during testimony Thursday that cocaine and alcohol could have played a role in the killing, though it’s unclear if that meant Marshall was under the influence of those drugs at the time or if his admitted abuse of those substances over a long period of time had altered his thinking.
“This is a tragedy at so many levels,” Schlather said after the verdict. “Although our justice system is finally beginning to understand that violence in the protection of the weak and vulnerable among us is entitled to some consideration, we have a long way to go. Nobody wins with today’s result.”
The Godfrey family, meanwhile, was mostly satisfied with the sentence. Latishia Abdellatif, another of Godfrey’s siblings who also delivered a victim impact statement in which she repeated the words “Justice for Alan” nearly 20 times consecutively, said that while the family is not happy, they do feel heard.
“We wanted anything between 20-25 years,” Abdellatif said. “My brother wasn’t a saint. Nobody is. But you don’t take the law into your own hands.”
That was the sentiment expressed by Bonavia, a prosecutor, and Judge Cassidy as well during the hearing. Bonavia painted Marshall as impulsive and argued that more should have been done to intervene in the situation between Marshall’s younger brother and Godfrey before it turned violent. While Marshall’s family had moved his younger brother around and changed his cell phone number, that did not remedy the situation, and Bonavia wondered aloud why William hadn’t contacted the police if he was so distressed about the situation. Marshall’s brother had called the police twice in October 2017 but hadn’t told them about the abuse, just that Godfrey had been demanding money from him (Marshall said in his statement that he felt the police weren’t going to do anything because they hadn’t acted already).
“Vigilante justice is about power and control,” Bonavia said during his closing arguments. “This didn’t have to happen. Whatever was the dispute between Mr. Godfrey and Mr. Marshall’s brother, those facts are things we deal with all the time. […] This should have been decided in a courtroom, not an alleyway.”
The sentencing proceedings, Bonavia said, gave Marshall the due process that he had taken from Godfrey.
Cassidy seemed to concur with that line of thinking generally. He lamented that the matter had turned to violence, and that the entire ordeal could have been “circumvented by trust in our civic institutions.”
“It’s hard to imagine a manslaughter worse than this. It’s a nightmare,” Cassidy said during his sentencing declaration. Certain parts of Cassidy’s statement showed a glimpse into his decision to hand down 20 years, primarily when he listed aggravating and mitigating factors he had weighed regarding the crime.
Chief among the mitigating factors was Marshall’s decision to plead guilty, which Cassidy said directly contributed to him not receiving the maximum sentence—that by avoiding a trial, Marshall had given the community some sense of closure, despite the pain he also brought. Cassidy also said he considered Marshall’s rough upbringing and how it had translated into Marshall’s devotion to protecting his younger brother, as well as testimony from Darnell Epps, a current Yale University law student who had spent time in prison with Marshall while the latter was locked up on drug dealing charges in the late 2000s. Epps credited Marshall with helping turn his life around while incarcerated and after being released.
But Cassidy also was clearly impacted by viewing the video of the shooting, captured on a surveillance camera. He characterized the killing as having “elements of torture,” largely fueled by Marshall continuing to shoot once Godfrey fell to the ground after the first shot, firing four more times while still approaching Godfrey’s body on the ground.
Regardless of the sentence, Cassidy said he believed “no one in this room will leave the courthouse anything but aggrieved and heartbroken.”
(Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Latishia Abdellatif’s first name)