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Slain teen’s parents describe grief as killer sentenced to life

DOVER, N.H. — Robert Marriott walked a slow circle around the silent courtroom Thursday. He held a poster-size photo of his beaming daughter, large as life.

Her hands, covered in bits of leaves, gently cupped a frog she had rescued from the family’s pool. It was Mother’s Day 2011, a year and a half before Seth Mazzaglia strangled her with a rope, raped her, and dumped her body in a river after she rebuffed his sexual advances.

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Earlier Thursday morning, the courtroom had rung with family members’ declarations of unequivocal hatred for Mazzaglia. Now, as Robert Marriott solemnly held his daughter’s photograph, no one made a sound.

“All the goodness in Lizzi could not save her from you,” he told Mazzaglia. “When you killed her, you cemented your place on the side of evil.”

Mazzaglia, 31, was sentenced soon afterward to life imprisonment without chance of parole.

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During the hearing, he sat impassively as a dozen relatives and friends of 19-year-old Elizabeth “Lizzi” Marriott called him an evil coward and tearfully recounted the unendurable months since he killed her.

“Rot in hell, you degenerate,” said George Bentley, Marriott’s great-uncle. He suggested that Mazzaglia kill himself. “A pathetic and inhumane being like you has no logical reason to remain on this earth.”

Lizzi Marriott had begun her sophomore year at the University of New Hampshire five weeks before her death, thrilled to be studying marine biology after a lifetime of caring for backyard animals. Eager to make friends, she visited Target coworker Kathryn McDonough’s apartment to watch a movie on Oct. 9. 2012.

But, as McDonough testified in court, the invitation was a ploy. She had lured Marriott to the Dover apartment she shared with Mazzaglia, her boyfriend, after he demanded that she bring him another woman for sex.

Marriott twice rebuffed Mazzaglia’s advances, angering him, McDonough said. With a rope the couple used in bondage sex, he strangled Marriott from behind. Then he raped her lifeless body while shouting expletives. The couple then packed Marriott’s body into a suitcase, drove to Portsmouth, and threw it into the Piscataqua River. Her body has never been found.

Strafford Superior Court Judge Steven M. Houran imposed the mandatory life sentence and ordered Mazzaglia to pay restitution, including funeral expenses, to the Marriott family.

Before Houran sentenced him, Mazzaglia spoke on his own behalf.

“I did not rape and murder Elizabeth Marriott,’’ Mazzaglia said after the judge heard victim impact statements. “However, I do understand the Marriott family’s pain. And I did play a part in covering up her death, a mistake that I tried to correct . . . My heart goes out to the Marriott family and I am very sorry for their loss.’’

After the sentencing, the victim’s father called Mazzaglia’s statement “lame.”

In court, some family members spoke softly, recalling still-vivid memories of Lizzi’s goofiness, talent, and generosity. One friend wondered how she will tell her daughter that “monsters really do exist.”

Marriott’s mother, Melissa, said in court that she avoids the mall and nail salons she used to frequent with her daughter. She misses the drives to the New England Aquarium, where her daughter, as part of an internship, told visitors about sea stars and octopuses.

“I can’t imagine going to the beach in New Hampshire again,’’ she said. “I rarely do anything that I did with Lizzi. It feels disloyal.’’

She told Mazzaglia: “I want you to know that I hate you unequivocally . . . You stole our smart, vivacious, beautiful daughter from us.”

Even after 22 months, she said, she still has trouble comprehending that her daughter “is never coming home.”

“It’s all because of a cowardly 30-year-old man who could not deal with a confident young woman,” Melissa Marriott said.

Marriott’s uncle, Tony Hanna, called Mazzaglia a “twisted individual who brought only darkness and pain into this world,” and said he would take comfort in knowing Mazzaglia will “live in darkness” until his death.

Marriott’s girlfriend, Brittany Atwood, struggled for composure as she talked about losing the “love of my life.’’

“She was a bright light and always will be,” Atwood said.

Jurors in June deliberated for about eight hours before finding Mazzaglia guilty of first-degree murder by strangulation and a second count of first-degree murder in connection with felonious sexual assault. Many jurors returned Thursday for the sentencing.

The lurid trial, which unfolded over 19 days, was dominated by one voice. In McDonough’s 10 days on the stand, she detailed the belief she and Mazzaglia shared in past lives, dragons, and tarot cards, as well as their habit of adopting alternate personas with names such as ‘Scarlet’ and ‘Dark Heart.’

She is serving 1½ to 3 years in prison for hindering prosecution.

Earlier this week, Mazzaglia attempted to skip his sentencing. His lawyers argued it was his constitutional right not to appear, but he ultimately withdrew his motion to skip the hearing.

Before the sentence was delivered and Mazzaglia was led out of the courtroom, in that moment of silence, Robert Marriott delivered one last statement.

He read a poem his daughter wrote about a swan felled by a hunter. His voice was thick with grief as he recited:

But then, alas, the hunter’s bow

Struck down the angel of new snow

The graceful white tainted by gore

The swan to fly again nevermore.

More coverage:

8/13: Seth Mazzaglia ends bid to skip his sentencing

6/27: Mazzaglia convicted of murdering UNH student

Claire McNeill can be reached at claire.mcneill@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @clairemcneill.
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