BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Cody Jeffords, 21, will have spent half of his life behind bars by the time he’s released from prison. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison for beating another young man to death in the parking lot of a Cheektowaga apartment complex last May.
Family and friends of the victim, 19-year-old Justin Vanderwalker, packed the Erie County courtroom Wednesday morning to observe the sentencing.
Jeffords stood quietly as Vanderwalker’s mother, Colleen, addressed the court for nearly 20 minutes, asking for the maximum sentence. Jeffords was facing a sentencing range of between 19 and 25 years after he pleaded guilty to first degree manslaughter.
Jeffords hit Vanderwalker in the head more than 30 times, despite the fact that Vanderwalker was knocked unconscious by the first blow, Hon. Sheila DiTullio noted as she was handing down the 24 year prison sentence. “Violence is not the answer to anger,” she told Jeffords.
Jeffords was thrown into a rage, his attorney said, when he came back to his apartment and discovered his girlfriend and Vanderwalker in “states of undress” in the bedroom.
As Colleen Vanderwalker described it, Jeffords then chased Justin Vanderwalker down “like an animal” and beat him with his bare hands. “Each blow you delivered was with purpose and malice,” Colleen Vanderwalker said to Jeffords in the courtroom Wednesday. “The only thing my son did was cross paths with evil – A vile, murderous demon.”
Vanderwalker was taken off life support at the hospital a few days later.
Jeffords apologized to Vanderwalker’s family in court, saying “Every day of my life I will regret this.”
“It will haunt me for the rest of my life, and I can only wish I could take it back,” he added.
Colleen Vanderwalker said she can never forgive Jeffords for what he did, but the family has to be at peace with the 24 year sentence as they continue to grieve.
The Vanderwalkers described Justin as a loyal brother, a cherished son, and the definition of selflessness. They say they find some peace in their belief part of Justin lives on in the seven people who received his organs after his death.
Colleen Vanderwalker says she hopes Justin’s legacy will be for everybody to be good to one another.