Before Jason Edward Lee was sentenced last week to 30 years in prison for murdering Richard Gluckstern of Fair Lakes, the victim's 81-year-old mother took the stand.
She'd flown here from New York to testify in Fairfax County Circuit Court, and she spoke of the pain and grief she's suffered since her son was killed.
"How can a mother describe what the loss of a beautiful, young man — beloved by all who knew him — means?" asked Dorothy Gluckstern. "He was my only child. I lost my daughter in June 2000 of incurable cancer at the age of 46. And then in June 2005, my beloved Richard was murdered — also at age 46. It has devastated me."
Raised in the Bronx, Richard Gluckstern obtained a business degree from the University at Buffalo, took extra courses in computer technology and moved to Virginia, four or five years ago.
He lived on Elm Forest Way, near the Fairfax County Government Center, and worked at the computer help desk at Freddie Mac. His mother called him a terrific punster with a great sense of humor. Although he was a quiet person, he was well-liked by friends and co-workers.
"Richard was a good friend of my son-in-law, [Denis Mayer], who he worked with at Freddie Mac," said Fair Oaks' Sue Brier, who attended Lee's sentencing. "He had the sweetest smile, and he probably had his last Thanksgiving dinner with us, in November 2004."
Still, Gluckstern wanted to be more extroverted so, at the 2005 Fall for Fairfax fair, he met and befriended Lee, then 23, of Ocala, Fla. And that was the beginning of the end for the Fair Lakes man: police later found him dead in his apartment, strangled on June 11, 2005.
After the crime, Lee stole Gluckstern's laptop computer, Visa credit card and 1994 Honda and fled to Florida. But when he checked into a motel there using that credit card, the motel owner became suspicious and contacted Gluckstern's mother in New York.
Unable to reach her son, she then called Fairfax County Police, who went with Mayer — already concerned when his friend didn't show up for work — to Gluckstern's home. That's when his body was discovered.
Meanwhile, on June 13, 2005, sheriff's deputies in Marion County, Fla., arrested Lee for violating his probation on burglary and grand-theft convictions. They also found Gluckstern's property in Lee's possession and notified Fairfax County Police.
A week later, the grand jury here indicted Lee on one count of first-degree murder, two counts of grand larceny and one count of credit-card theft. He then served time in Florida for probation violation and, in June 2006, was extradited to Virginia.
On April 24, 2007 in Circuit Court, he pleaded guilty to a lesser offense of second-degree murder, and all his other charges were dropped. He returned last Friday, July 13, for sentencing, and that's when Gluckstern's mother testified.
AFTER HER daughter's death, Dorothy Gluckstern said, she and her son grew even closer. They even planned a trip to Brazil together. "But unfortunately, that never happened," she said. "His passport, his check for his visa, and his car were stolen; and his life was stolen, most of all."
Dorothy Gluckstern said his friends couldn't understand how such a terrible thing could have happened "to such a decent, young man. His only fault was that he trusted too much, and that was his undoing. Richard believed everyone was as good as he was."
Lamenting how she missed talking with her son and hearing his laugh, she called Lee a "menace to society" and told Judge Charles Maxfield, "This senseless murder of a gentle, innocent man requires just punishment. Nothing less than the maximum sentence of 40 years would be appropriate. There will be suffering every day, for the rest of my life."
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ian Rodway then called police Det. Robert Bond to the stand. Bond said Lee first told him a wild story about being a "hit man," before finally admitting to him that he'd strangled Richard Gluckstern for no apparent reason.
"You have before you a younger man, involved with the criminal justice system before," Rodway told the court. Stressing that Lee committed murder while on probation in Florida, he said, "He is an individual used to manipulating people. He's been a hustler, the majority of his life — stealing things, doing this, getting drugs, whatever he wanted."
Rodway said Lee gave no explanation for the killing and the victim did nothing to provoke it. "Richard Gluckstern was kind and generous," he said. "He befriended this man and helped him out — and that help turned to murder. He choked Richard Gluckstern [probably] because he wanted to get his car and property and go on a spree."
The prosecutor said Gluckstern did not deserve to die — and not at the hands of Jason Lee. "The commonwealth can think of no reason Lee doesn't deserve to receive 40 years in the state penitentiary," Rodway told Maxfield. "Your Honor has heard many reasons why people commit murders ... but nothing on the face of this earth should have caused this man to die. And Lee did, and he deserves to be punished severely."
Public Defender Dawn Butorac said her client accepted full responsibility for his actions when he pleaded guilty, thereby saving the commonwealth the time and effort of bringing him to trial. "And when he confessed to this crime, it made things easier for the Fairfax County detectives," she said.
Noting that the state, sentencing guidelines recommend a punishment range of 13-22 years for this offense, she asked the judge to sentence Lee to the low end because of his "tumultuous" upbringing.
Butorac said he was abandoned by his mother at an early age and, as one of six children, he went to work at age 11. Later, she said, "He fell in with the wrong crowd and his drug use increased. He grew up in a violent household and was beaten regularly by his older brother — twice, with a baseball bat."
Although Lee committed an "egregious" crime, she said, he admitted it. "He grew up with no family structure and, therefore, was making poor decisions. He told the probation officer he decided to choke out Mr. Gluckstern and rob him of his possessions to feed his drug addictions, and it went horribly wrong."
Butorac said Lee tried to "better himself" while incarcerated and "has remorse for his actions." She said his upbringing should mitigate his sentence and he wouldn't murder again. "He needs drug counseling and anger-management," she said.
Unable to let her statements go unchallenged, Rodway again addressed Maxfield. "This defendant has no laurels to rest upon," he said. "And what's frightening about this defendant is: Every time he's around somebody with more property than he has, will his upbringing kick in and cause him to want to take their things?"
"Does the court think that, every mile he drove Mr. Gluckstern's Honda Civic from Fairfax to Marion County, Fla., he thought about what he had done?" asked Rodway. "Or every time he used the credit card? The commonwealth would submit to you that he did not. There's no force in heaven that makes it right, and he deserves the maximum amount of time."
Lee then stood and apologized to his family and to his victim's family. "I deeply regret what I did," he said. "Richard never did anything to provoke this. He was a sweet and caring person and would have probably given me anything I would have asked him for. I am really sorry."
Then it was Judge Maxfield's turn. "I don't doubt you had a hard life as a young man," he told Lee. "A lot of people have a hard life and don't grow up to become murderers. This really was one of the more cold-blooded murders you come across in a lifetime. He ended up dead for no reason."
Maxfield sentenced Lee to 40 years in prison, suspending 10, and placed him on three years post-release supervision. Then, to Dorothy Gluckstern, he said, "Ma'am, I'm sorry for your loss."
Afterward — although the judge sentenced Lee eight years beyond the state guidelines — the victim's mother said, "It's not the outcome expected, but I'm glad he came to justice. I really thought he deserved the maximum."
What helps her carry on now is her daily job as director of programs and activities in a senior-citizens, residential home in the Bronx. Said Gluckstern: "They need me and I need them."