The two families sat divided in the courtroom.
On one half, the friends and loved ones of Kimberly Jo Pampena-Conway struggled to express the loss they felt at the early and unnatural death of the young woman who worked as a veterinary technician and loved animals.
On the other, the friends and loved ones of Benjamin Conway struggled to understand how the man described as the young woman's "high school sweetheart" and "soul mate" could have pulled a .357-revolver and shot her in the head.
In the end, Conway, 32, couldn't provide either side any answers. Instead, he simply apologized and was sentenced Monday, as part of his plea agreement, to 141/2 to 30 years in prison.
Conway pleaded guilty to third-degree murder for shooting his wife in the head around 1 a.m. Nov. 4 after the couple returned to their Baldwin Borough home from a night out.
His blood alcohol content at the time was .19 -- more than twice the legal limit for driving. After he shot Kimberly Conway, he attempted to kill himself but was unsuccessful.
In a tear-filled statement at his sentencing hearing, Conway apologized to both families for what he'd done, admitting that sorry would never be enough.
"I ask for your forgiveness, and I pray that her angel forgives me, as I fight to forgive myself," he said.
Conway, who remained handcuffed throughout the proceeding, repeatedly put his head down and wiped tears from his eyes.
"If I could trade my life for hers, I would gladly do so on a dime," Conway said. "I lost a wife and a best friend. We all lost an angel."
He repeatedly referenced the shooting as "a reckless act."
"Along with reliving these nightmares in my dreams every night, it sickens me that I'm responsible," he said.
In pronouncing the sentence, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani, too, questioned what happened, noting that intoxication was a significant factor in the case.
"Mr. Conway, it's hard to imagine, based on everything I've read and heard, you could do the thing you did," the judge said. "It's also hard to imagine how you can be reckless with a gun around someone you cared for."
The court received 17 victim-pact letters, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Chernosky said, and several were read in court. Among them, Kimberly Conway's mother, Katherine J. Pampena, explained how her life has changed.
"There is no pain like the pain from the death of your child, but when the death is a violent death caused by someone whom you trusted to love, protect and cherish your child forever, it is unbearable," she wrote. "There is no peace in my family; there is only emptiness and sadness."
Kimberly Conway's sister-in-law spoke about how difficult it has been to explain to her children, who range in age from 9 to 21, what happened.
"[The 15-year-old] helped carry Kim's casket," wrote Tia Pampena. "He never should have had to experience doing that."
Mari Pampena, spoke about the terrible dreams she has, waking up screaming, wanting to help her older sister.
"It was inevitable that she was my first best friend," she said. "She was more than a sister. Now I must picture a world where I will never meet her children."
In speaking on behalf of Conway, his family members repeatedly talked about their love for the victim -- including his sister, who said she regretted being unable to attend the woman's funeral, but didn't go so as not to be a burden.
Lynn Errico, Conway's mother, extensively quoted from the Bible in her statement, addressing the victim's family.
"I do not pretend to know the pain of their loss. The grief must be never ending," she said. "The joy Kim brought to you all is truly a blessing. I think of your sorrow more often than you'll ever know."
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard. First Published July 29, 2013 11:45 AM