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Burke sentenced for vehicular manslaughter, despite unlikely forgiveness

By WKTV News

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - A tragic drunk driving crash in Lee Center back in December killed a 24-year-old Holland Patent man.
       
On Friday, his killer was sentenced, but not before a most unlikely person pleaded with the judge for leniency on his behalf.
 
"CJ was 24 years of age and was beginning a new life in his life's journey," said Charlene Melnick, the mother of the victim. "He was engaged and awaiting the birth of his daughter. He did not live to see Azalea born. 
 
"I had to step in and take my son's place on this joyous occasion which was so bittersweet"
 
What this grieving mother said next that many may find shocking. 
 
She asked the judge not to send Stephen Burke to prison for killing her son in that drunk driving crash, because the two were best friends.
 
"Personally I have forgiven Stephen for the accident that took CJ's life," she said. "I have been asked, 'how could I do this," How could I forgive something of this magnitude? 
 
"And my response is, 'how could I not?'"  
 
Melnick continued, "Stephen was CJ's best friend. He is a part of our family. His actions were not born of malice. He mourns our mutual loss as deeply as does our family"
 
The Judge told Melnick that he understood her feelings, but that he still had to see to it that justice was done. 
 
Part of that is accountability for one's actions and choices
 
"Let's just say your son was walking down the road and was killed by a drunk driver that you did not know," said Oneida County Court Judge, Hon. Michael L. Dwyer. "I'm not sure that your feelings would be the same today"
 

Dwyer sentenced Stephen Burke to 2.5-7.5 years in state prison for vehicular manslaughter that killed his best friend, and Charlene Melnick's son, Charles Melnick, Jr. 

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