By Ed Runyan
Mitchell Westfall and his sisters stood about 15 feet from their half brother, Thomas J. Starr, telling him how sad they are that Starr killed their father last June with a knife.
But they also said a goodbye of sorts to Starr, 29, who is headed to prison for at least 30 years for the murder of his stepfather, Jeff Westfall, 53, and attempted murder of his mother, Lisa Frye, at their Southington home.
“That night I didn’t just lose my father. I lost my brother, too — two of the most important people in my life — gone,” Westfall said to Starr, who has the same mother as him.
“I go through life thinking why did this happen? Why me? And I just don’t know,” Mitchell Westfall continued. “I don’t know why it happened.” He paused a few seconds, then said it again: “I just don’t know.”
Police and prosecutors said they also don’t know why Starr attacked his stepfather with a knife, then stabbed his mother in the neck before running into the woods behind the home on state Route 305.
He used his cellphone from the woods to tell a 911 operator he “just attempted to kill my mother and stepfather.”
His mother survived but has had numerous medical problems since then, family members say.
Mitchell Westfall was one of several people who spoke at Starr’s hearing in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, saying Starr’s attack on his stepfather and mother is hard to understand and unexplainable.
Starr himself didn’t offer any explanation when it was his turn to speak.
“Three days before you did the most cowardly thing I’ve ever experienced in my life, my father asked what I thought he should do for you because he could see you were going down a bad path,” Mitchell’s sister, Danielle Havlock, said.
“He wanted to help you. I told him you were a grown man, and it was time for you to go out on your own, and he should just kick you out. But he said, ‘No. He’s one of my kids. I can’t do that to him.’ And because he loved you so much, he lost his life,” Havlock said.
“My daughter lost her grandfather, who she was so close to. She loved him so much, and she loved you so much, and you took it all away for her. He gave you everything.”
Starr had come back from serving in the military about three years ago and lived part of the time after that with his mother and step-father. Family members said he hadn’t worked much after the military, but they didn’t think he was mentally ill or involved heavily in drugs.
Court evaluations indicated he was sane at the time of the offenses and mentally competent to stand trial.
Mitchell’s other sister, Megan Hunt, said she, too, cared about Thomas at an earlier time but no more.
“What’s worst of all, I have good memories of you. You were my brother, and I loved you. My dad loved you, and your mom loved you, and you killed him. We have no more good thoughts of you.”
Chris Becker, assistant county prosecutor, said it was acceptable to the prosecutor’s office to allow Starr to plead guilty to a form of aggravated murder that carries the potential for parole after 30 years instead of no parole because it’s doubtful a parole board will ever let him out of prison.
“We are very confident he will not get out of prison after 30 years,” Becker said.
He credited the 911 operator for keeping Starr on the phone so that his confession could be obtained.
Frye and Westfall were not married but had been together for decades and had one son, Mitchell Westfall, together.