PHILADELPHIA, the Center City Rapist has a message for you:
Sorry for causing the city two years of fright. Sorry for raping five women. Sorry for raping and killing Wharton student Shannon Schieber.
"To the city of Philadelphia and the victims and the families and friends of the victims, I'm sorry," Troy Graves sniveled yesterday after pleading guilty to first-degree murder, five rapes and one attempted rape.
"My deepest sympathy to the Schieber family for their loss, and I thank them for how they've been throughout this," he said.
Graves, sporting olive-green pants and a blue-and-white shirt that retained its just-bought creases, stopped several times during his short speech to compose himself.
His voice cracked. He swallowed back a sob. He choked on tears. He took long, loud inhales and exhaled slowly to calm himself.
"I wish I could, uh, offer more than an apology today," Graves said, sniffing and crying. "I'm hoping my future actions will reflect my sincerity. Um, I've cooperated with authorities fully and, in sometime in the future, I'll talk to profilers which will hopefully help future investigations, and maybe myself.
"I'm thinking of ways to try to make amends."
He has a lot to make up for.
Graves, 30, terrorized Philadelphia from June 1997 to August 1999. He eventually left the city and joined the Air Force, an attempt, one of his defense attorneys said yesterday, to start a new life.
Before long, Graves was in Fort Collins, Colo., back to his vile habit of sneaking up on young women inside their residences and sexually assaulting them.
He soon had two jurisdictions on his trail, a scenario that was sure to snare him because he left DNA - what District Attorney Lynne Abraham called his "calling card" - at the scene of his crimes. After matching DNA of the serial rapist in Fort Collins and the one in Philadelphia, cops eventually nabbed Graves.
"He was glad it was over," said Dan Stevenson, one of the public defenders who represented Graves. "He's sorry for all the people he hurt. He's a complicated young man. He doesn't know why he did these things. He had a constant struggle to not do these things."
After Graves was arrested and negotiated a guilty plea with Fort Collins authorities, Philadelphia cops and prosecutors flew to Colorado and began their own negotiations. They got their plea May 21.
Stevenson, who was there when Graves gave a detailed statement about the crimes to Philadelphia police, said Graves wanted to get caught.
"We met him, and within five minutes, he told us he did it," Stevenson said.
When Graves sat down after his emotional courtroom speech, the predator who instilled unspeakable fear in his six local victims began to tremble violently. He shuddered and shook throughout the rest of the proceeding.
He didn't have to fear being put to death: In exchange for a detailed statement and guilty plea, the district attorney's office agreed not to seek lethal injection.
Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner sentenced Graves to life in prison without parole for Schieber's murder, followed by 60 to 120 years in prison for the sexual assaults. He will serve the Philadelphia sentences after his life term in Colorado.
Schieber's parents, Sylvester and Vicki, were opposed to the death penalty for Graves, a position that won them high praise from Graves' attorney yesterday.
They did not get the same treatment from Abraham.
During a news conference later in the day, Abraham portrayed the Schiebers as having come unglued by emotion.
"I feel sorry for what the Schieber's believe," she said. "Their emotions...have overwhelmed them."
The Schiebers, who have filed a lawsuit against the city, believe that cops who were called to the scene of their daughter's murder could have saved her life. The officers were outside her door, they said, while Graves was strangling Shannon.
Her brother, Sean, found her dead the next day.
The family also accused law enforcement of asking Graves leading questions so that his statement about the murder would protect police against the Schiebers' allegations.
In the statement, Graves is questioned several times about the timing of Schieber's death in relation to when the cops arrived: Did Graves hear cops knock on the door? [No.] Was Schieber's balcony door open or shut when he left? [He shut it.] Did he see cops at the scene? [No.] Did he see a flashlight shined into the apartment? [No.]
Graves admitted to hearing two knocks on Schieber's door that night. Both were from Schieber's neighbor, who called police after he heard a woman cry out.
"We have tremendous skepticism about what we heard" in court, Sylvester Schieber said.
The Schiebers were visibly outraged during the hearing when Assistant District Attorney Arlene Fisk seemed to explain the cops' failure to kick in the door that night by blaming a neighbor who feared embarrassment if they forced into the apartment and nothing was wrong.
"It had no bearing to the proceedings," Vicky Schieber said of that detail.
When asked what legal relevance the detail had in Graves' guilty plea, Abraham said Fisk simply was summarizing the crime. Abraham would not provide a legal explanation for including the detail in the court record.
As the Schiebers prepared to leave Philadelphia for a family party yesterday, they said they were able to forgive their daughter's killer.
They do not feel the same about the cops who they believe could have saved her.