NEWPORT — A 28-year-old Newport man was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for the murder of his girlfriend last October.
Ryan Steven Gaskins appeared before Lincoln County Circuit Court Judge Sheryl Bachart, where he entered a guilty plea to a charge of second degree murder in the death of 34-year-old Alexandra Prezioso.
Prezioso was killed on Oct. 27, 2019, strangled to death in her home in Newport. But when police were first called to the scene, it was to investigate a possible burglary because it was unknown at the time that Prezioso was dead.
Prezioso’s mother, Patti Prezioso, who also lived at that Newport residence, came home about 8 p.m. on Oct. 27. When she entered the house, she saw bloody footprints on the floor, and there were clothes and other items strewn all over the residence.
Deputy District Attorney Lanee Danforth, who prosecuted the case, explained what Patti Prezioso found that night. “She thought that it was a burglary and her daughter was missing, so police came out to the house, and they took photographs.” When the police went back outside, Patti Prezioso sat down on a couch in the living room, “and the dog started nudging this pile of clothes,” Danforth said. “So she lifts up one of the pieces of clothing and see’s Alexandra’s foot.”
That pile of clothing covering the murder victim had actually been photographed by police when they thought they were investigating a burglary.
Gaskins, who has also been living at the residence, was quickly identified as a suspect. He was indicted by a Lincoln County Grand Jury on a murder charge and was taken into custody a few days later.
This was not the first time that Gaskins had assaulted Prezioso.
“Back in November 2017, he strangled her,” Danforth said. “And she had a bone-anchored hearing aid, so it was surgically attached to her skull. He strangled her, and he slowly twisted that out of her head.
“He went to prison,” Danforth said of that 2017 assault, which occurred in Benton County. “He only did 13 months on that case, and then he got out in October 2018. Then about a year later, he committed this murder.”
Gaskins opted to forgo a trial and instead entered a plea of guilty this week to a charge of second degree murder. Additional charges of second degree assault and strangulation (two counts) were dismissed.
Judge Bachart sentenced Gaskins to life in prison. He will have to serve a minimum of 25 years before being eligible for parole, and if he is paroled, he will be subject to post-prison supervision for the rest of his life. He was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $5,000 to pay for funeral expenses.
Prior to sentencing, Danforth spoke to the court. “This case is tragic all the way around. But I think for me as a prosecutor, one of the most tragic things is we could have seen this coming,” she said. “Alex’s death came too soon. I know family and friends wish that she was here, but I believe that Alex’s story will save lives, and I believe that her legacy will live on, and I think it’s going to end up changing the way we prosecute domestic violence cases in the future.”
Patti Prezioso also spoke during the sentencing hearing. Looking directly at Gaskins, she said, “My daughter was my life. She was my whole world, but I couldn’t protect her from you. She was never in trouble with the law or addicted to a drug until she met you.
“I told her from the beginning of your relationship that you weren’t a good person. From the first time I met you, I knew it, and I begged her to not see you,” she added. “I will never, ever forgive you, Ryan, for taking my daughter’s life. You’re a monster. I hope you rot in prison in a very small cell for a very long time. Nothing you can do will ever be enough because it will never bring my daughter back.”
A couple of other family members spoke as well, and then the court heard from Gaskins himself.
“I just want to say to the family that I am sincerely sorry,” Gaskins said. “Alex was a great person; she was a better person than I’ll ever be, and not a day goes by that I’m not going to have to live with this. I’m really sorry from the bottom of my heart that this happened.”
Before handing down the sentence, the judge said, “Mr. Gaskins, there isn’t a whole lot the court can say that hasn’t been said before. I’m sure your apology falls far short with the family, but I’m not sure what words would have any meaning to them that you could utter right here. There’s some losses that are just too much, and there’s no apology that’s ever going to be enough. Nothing’s going to bring her back. Nothing’s going to make this right.”
Bachart said what’s hard for everyone to accept is “she loved you, you loved her, yet you killed her. What makes this so difficult to accept is that this was absolutely preventable. She suffered a violent, heinous murder. It didn’t have to happen. To say this case is tragic is an understatement. The question that will haunt everyone is the why, and there will never be an answer to that.”
In an interview with the News-Times following the sentencing, Danforth was asked about Gaskins’ apology in court. “I don’t think there’s anything that he could say that would be any sort of comfort for the family,” she said. “My personal opinion when he spoke was that there was zero emotion or zero remorse behind it. I don’t think he had any reaction the entire court hearing, and I don’t think he feels bad about what he did.”
Danforth said when Gaskins strangled Prezioso the first time, back in 2017, that was a red flag that should not have been ignored.
Danforth said, “The interesting thing to me as a prosecutor is in the 2017 case … the police officer asked Alexandra, ‘When he was strangling you, do you think he was trying to kill you.’ And she said, ‘I don’t think he was trying to kill me. I would like to think he wouldn’t do that.’”
Danforth said there are statistics showing that once someone has been strangled by an intimate partner one time, “you’re seven-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by that intimate partner in the future.” But a lot of domestic violence victims don’t recognize that danger, she said, “so this is a prime example where we had this red flag back then, Alexandra didn’t think he’d ever kill her, and then here we are. And the cause of death was strangulation in this case.”
Danforth said there are a lot of resources available for someone who is a victim of domestic violence.
“Obviously they can report to law enforcement. We have My Safe Place — formerly My Sisters’ Place — that can help them get out of that and do some safety planning. Really it’s about what’s going to make them feel the safest.
“I don’t think there’s a cookie-cutter way to get out of a domestic violence relationship,” she said, adding that it’s important for people to know that there are resources available and there are people who can help them plan to get out safely.