NEW PORT RICHEY — Donnalee Johnston left Courtroom 3A on Friday afternoon before the prosecutor pushed play on the 911 tape in which she begs for her life.
"Why are you doing this?"
This happened back in August 2005. Nicholas Altamuro, 49, stabbed Johnston 51 times, according to authorities. They were boyfriend and girlfriend, or at least had been, and he thought she was cheating on him.
Altamuro, who had no prior felony record, pleaded guilty last October to attempted murder.
On Friday, at the end of a hearing that lasted more than 21/2 hours, Circuit Judge Thane Covert sentenced him to 23 years in prison, two years of house arrest and five years of probation.
"This is a very serious crime," the judge said. "This is not a minor offense."
Johnston, 51, who returned to the courtroom after the 911 tape was played, put her hands to her face and cried.
Members of Altamuro's family from New Jersey left the courtroom in a profane huff.
On Aug. 24, 2005, Altamuro showed up at Johnston's mobile home in New Port Richey and attacked her in her bedroom. He stabbed her in her hands, wrists, chest, neck and back. The two steak knives he used ended up bent.
Johnston had dialed 911 when he arrived. The phone line was open during the attack.
After it was over, after deputies had gotten there and handcuffed Altamuro, he lunged at Johnston as she was taken from her home on a gurney. Deputies had to tackle him.
He asked one of the deputies if he had killed her.
He was told no.
"Too bad," he said. "I really wanted to."
Johnston took the stand during Friday's hearing.
"I still can't sleep," she said. "I still get afraid."
Altamuro, meanwhile, testified that he was very sorry, and that he cared for her.
"I combed her hair," he said. "I cooked for her.
"I love Ms. Johnston more than I love myself."
Covert was unmoved.
"I think your remorse is very shallow in the nature," the judge told Altamuro in announcing his sentence. "I saw nothing that appeared to be heartfelt."
Michael Kruse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6244.