LOCKPORT — As Yasin Abdus-Sabur rose to speak, in the courtroom of Niagara County Court Judge John Ottaviano on Thursday afternoon, his manacled hands began to shake.
Dressed in a blue jail jumpsuit and wearing a knitted white skull cap, he took a deep breath and began to speak, But just as quickly, he began to sob.
“All I know is that I am sorry,” Abdus-Sabur said haltingly. “I have remorse, not for myself, but for Terri. Terri didn’t do anything.”
The admitted killer in the grisly dismemberment murder of Terri Lynn Bills struggled to remain composed as his victim’s family, including her two sons, listened to him.
“She was not tortured. She was not aware of anything when (the murder) happened,” Abdus-Sabur said as he cried and wiped away the tears streaming down his face. “And I am sorry for what happened.”
When Abdus-Sabur finished, Ottaviano told him that his crime had been “unspeakable.”
“You took from a family something that can never be replaced,” the judge said.
And then Ottaviano sentenced Abdus-Sabur to a determinate term of 18 years to life in prison.
Before Abdus-Sabur spoke, Bills’ sister, Joanna, spoke to the judge. She told Ottaviano that her sister brought light and laughter to the family.
“Terri was a happy person, with an infectious laugh and smile,” Joanna Bills said. “Her son shares that laugh.”
Biils’ sons, who were 14 and 15 at the time of her death in 2015, listened intently as their aunt spoke.
“Never in my nightmares did I dream that (Terri) would be murdered, (dismembered) and left in a trash bag,” Joanna Bills said. “My sister was not garbage and trash. Her life mattered. I struggle with the thought of her last moments.”
Then the victim’s younger sister turned her attention to Abdus-Sabur.
“I’m told (Terri’s) relationship with the defendant was ‘friends’,” Joanna Bills said. “I wish she had chosen her friends better. Because with friends like him who needs enemies. I want justice for my sister.”
Abdus-Sabur pleaded guilty, in July, to a single count of second-degree murder in the gruesome slaying of Bills in 2015. He had previously been found competent to stand trial and his defense attorney, Robert Fogg, said Abdus-Sabur had agreed not to pursue a so-called insanity defense.
“It is a heinous crime. It’s a terrible thing to take a life. He took responsibility. He offers no excuses. He knows there is no excuse,” Fogg said of his client.
Abdus-Sabur was indicted, arrested and arraigned in February 2020, following a five-year manhunt to find Bills’ killer.
Pandemic-related issues, a list of potentially 400 witnesses submitted to the defense by prosecutors and the initial competency evaluation Abdus-Sabur all combined to slow the progress of the case.
Abdus-Sabur, 38, formerly of the Falls, was picked up by Niagara County Sheriff’s deputies at a South Carolina jail in February 2020 after he completed a one-year sentence for a conviction on domestic violence and child neglect charges. He had first been linked to Bills’ murder in 2019.
Bills’ body was discovered on June 16, 2015, inside an abandoned house on Willow Avenue. Investigators found only her torso, her head and limbs had been removed and have been been recovered.
She had not been seen for several days before the discovery of her torso. Investigators suspected that Bills had been killed somewhere else and her body had been brought to the Willow Avenue location.
In December 2019, investigators discovered the murder scene.
Detectives from the Falls Police Crime Scene Unit, Criminal Investigation Division and even members of the Crash Management Unit, skilled in high-tech crime scene reconstruction, descended on a home at 1526 Pierce Ave. and spent four days scouring it for evidence.
Investigators eventually loaded up a transportable storage pod with material taken from the home.
Police said the trove of forensic evidence they found at the Pierce Avenue home, along with other information obtained by detectives, led to the charges against Abdus-Sabur. Police and prosecutors would later contended that Abdus-Sabur had dismembered Bills body in an attempt to distract Falls Police detectives, who were also probing the dismemberment murder of Loretta Gates
“He (Abdus-Sabur) terrorized an entire community, First Assistant District Attorney Doreen Hoffmann, the lead prosecutor on the case, told Ottaviano. “He copy-catted another murder and the entire city of Niagara Falls thought there was a serial killer.”
Niagara County District Attorney Brain Seaman said the case against Abdus-Sabur would have never been brought, without the determination of Falls Police detectives, led by Criminal Investigation Division Lt. Troy Earp and retired Crime Scene Unit Capt. Nicolas Paonessa.
“They refused to let this case go cold and took extraordinary steps in their investigation,” Seaman said. “If not for them and for the efforts of First Assistant District Attorney Doreen Hoffman and Executive Assistant District Attorney Mary Jean Bowman, I don’t believe this case would have ever been successfully prosecuted.
Seaman also said he believes that Abdus-Sabur should never be released from prison.
“My office will do everything in its power to make sure this sentence is a true life sentence,” the DA said. “We will make sure that all the information about how this defendant not only murdered Terri Lynn Bills, but then dismembered her body, is made known to all future parole boards.”