AUBURN | Bridget Lynn Bell did not hoard her smiles.
Instead, she greeted the world with a brilliant grin, sharing her warmth indiscriminately with friends and strangers.
Her friends and family described her as an exceptionally positive woman who was not afraid of hard work, the light to which they flocked. But above all, Bell was a mother, a woman who felt lucky to call her son, Finn, the center of her universe.
Then, in a moment of surreal violence, Bell was gone — murdered by the father of her child.
And on Thursday, Bell received posthumous justice.
Following a four-day-long bench trial in Cayuga County Court, Judge Thomas Leone found Ryan Brahney guilty of stabbing and slicing Bell 38 times, leaving a butcher knife lodged deep in his ex-girlfriend's lifeless chest.
As Leone read out his verdict charge by charge — declaring the defendant guilty of two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree burglary, two counts of first-degree criminal contempt, all felonies, and one count of fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a misdemeanor — Brahney stood staring stoically ahead, showing as much emotion as a statue.
But minutes earlier, during District Attorney Jon Budelmann's closing statement, the 50 spectators in the courtroom witnessed a taste of Brahney's oft-described anger.
As Budelmann described Brahney as remorseless and violent, the defendant shook his head and jiggled his leg as he twisted incessantly in his seat, occasionally gesticulating and whispering angrily in his attorney's ear.
Addressing the defense's assertion that Brahney killed Bell to protect his son, Budelmann asked the court why the defendant left his 3-year-old son alone in a house with his mother's bloody, lifeless body.
"His son — that was what this was all about — was just an afterthought that morning," Budelmann said. "This is the same son the defendant didn't pay any child support for, the same son Bell was holding when he broke her jaw."
The real reason Brahney plunged a knife into Bell's face, neck, arms, hands, chest and back, Budelmann said, was because he couldn't stand seeing Bell with another man.
"The reality is the defendant murdered Ms. Bell out of jealousy — pure and simple," Budelmann said.
At that, Brahney once again asked Leone to excuse him from the courtroom.
"I'm sick of listening to this bull---," Brahney said, as three deputies escorted him out of the room. "I should've taken the stand like I wanted to."
Continuing, Budelmann said there was "no evidence whatsoever" to support Brahney's allegations that Bell was a crack cocaine addict who frequently invited drug dealers to hang around the former couple's toddler son.
"Ms. Bell was not the bad person, the bad mother the defendant alleged her to be," Budelmann said.
Brahney is simply a violent man, Budelmann said, a sociopath who fantasized for months about killing the woman who was no longer moved by his sway. The district attorney argued having a son had not changed Brahney.
"The defendant was violent before his son was born and was violent after," Budelmann said. "This murder was just another episode in a lifetime of violence."
In his closing statement, Simon Moody, Brahney's defense attorney, disagreed.
Describing his client as a "creature who had been institutionalized," for most of his life, Moody said there was no question Brahney violently killed Bell. But the driving force behind his fatal actions, Moody said, was the desire to protect his son.
"Finn. That was his world. That was his focus," Moody said. "His son meant everything to him, and always will."
But when Brahney saw Bell placing Finn in what he considered dangerous situations — in particular, bringing a convicted drug dealer in his son's home — Moody said Brahney snapped, killing Bell in a frenzied, violent rage.
And nearly a year after Bell's death, Moody said his client feels no remorse for the life he took.
"He felt he had protected his son," Moody explained. "There can be no doubt that he thought ... that her exposure of his son to drug dealers and drugs could not be tolerated."
Arguing his client suffered from extreme emotional distress the night of Bell's death, Moody asked Leone to try and evaluate the crime from Brahney's state of mind.
"No rational person can excuse Ryan Brahney's actions except Ryan Brahney, because in his world, in his cosmos, in his definition of right and wrong, he did the right thing," Moody said. "And that is the yardstick by which you must judge his actions."
But looking at the evidence, Leone judged one verdict for Brahney's actions: guilty of all charges.
For the defendant's convictions, Budelmann said Brahney faces between 25 to 54 years to life, depending on Leone's sentencing decision at 9:15 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 25.
When Leone announced Brahney guilty of felony and intentional murder, dozens of Bell's loved ones who gathered to witness her killer's trial exhaled a great whoosh of air, audibly announcing their relief.
Hugging each other, Bell's friends and family clung to each, crying, smiling and laughing.
Kelly Bell, Bridget Bell's mother and Finn's guardian, thanked the Auburn Police Department, Leone and, in particular, Budelmann, for helping get justice for her daughter.
She said she hopes Bell's death shows the community domestic violence needs to be taken seriously.
"We need to come together," Kelly Bell said. "Not everyone out there is crying to get someone away for the night — they want them away permanently."
Gail Telvock, one of Bell's aunts, said Thursday was her birthday. Having Brahney found guilty, she said, was the best present she could ask for.
Crying, Telvock described her niece.
"She was a happy, happy girl," she said. "She worked really hard, and she never stopped taking care of that boy."
And although knowing Brahney will spend most of the rest of his life in prison, Telvock said his punishment could never adequately soothe the devastating ache left by Bell's death.
"No matter how much time he serves, no matter what," Telvock said, "It's not going to bring back my beautiful niece."