NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — The man convicted of killing a popular former Rutgers student named Billy McCaw has been sentenced to 40 years in prison.
State Superior Court Judge Dennis Nieves handed down the sentence today to Timothy Puskas, a New Brunswick resident, before a crowd that spilled into the hallway. Following the news, some began to shed tears as they left the courtroom, while others engaged in long, tight hugs.
For McCaw’s loved ones—many of whom lobbied for Puskas to get life in prison—the sentencing represented an emotional end to just one chapter in a tragic story.
“We’ll continue to move forward in Billy’s name and memory,” his father, Bob McCaw, said after today’s court proceedings. “It’s a continuing journey, but we’re grateful to have this part of it over.”
Puskas’s 40-year sentence is slated to run consecutive to a seven-year sentence he received after pleading guilty in 2015 to a fatal hit-and-run crash. He must serve 85 percent of the sentence before he is eligible for parole, according to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.
Puskas, 41, might remain in prison until he is nearly 90 years old.
A jury convicted him in January of murder and several related charges. In doing so, the jury found that Puskas bludgeoned McCaw, then a 22-year-old Kean University, with a tool and left him for dead in a snow-covered Hartwell Street backyard in February 2014.
McCaw was killed after a night of party-hopping around Rutgers University. His death deeply upset his social circle and the Rutgers community at large, sparking a candlelight vigil and calls for greater off-campus protections.
Middlesex County prosecutors built their case on the idea that Puskas was outraged and unstable. He was, prosecutors alleged, out for blood.
Puskas has maintained his innocence and may appeal the decision. He didn’t address the court or McCaw’s family today, opting to remain silent, as he was for much of the trial.
Prior to announcing the prison sentence, Nieves acknowledged that the months-long, emotionally-draining trial began to “wear” on him. He extended his sympathies toward McCaw’s family, adding that he was glad they didn’t need to see the graphic photos of the young man’s body that were presented throughout the proceedings.
Those photos showed a gruesome scene in which blood soaked through the snow. McCaw’s face had been badly beaten.
The judge also acknowledged that McCaw’s supporters might be unhappy with his decision to not put Puskas behind bars for life. But McCaw’s father later said his family was “not dissatisfied” with the sentence.
“Nobody has the right to take somebody else’s life,” Nieves said prior to the sentencing. “Nobody.”
Many in McCaw’s family have chosen to try to forgive Puskas the murder. But that doesn’t make the loss of McCaw any less difficult, they said.
“Timothy Puskas has sentenced us to a lifetime of pain,” McCaw’s mom, Mary, said in court today, according to NJ.com.
Even so, the McCaw family has organized fundraising efforts to honor their son’s name and memory. This past Christmas, they used some of that money to buy gifts for the children of Leonel Lopez Hernandez, the 26-year-old New Brunswick resident killed in Puskas’s 2012 hit and run.
Puskas was free on bail for that offense when he killed McCaw.