For the mother of Corey Laykovich's, the guilty plea Thursday morning by John D. Seger was more about what he did not claim than the sentence he received.
Seger, who had been charged with second-degree murder for the July 2013 killing of Laykovich near his house in the area of 39th Street and Crackerneck Road in Independence, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Judge James Kanatzar sentenced Seger to the recommended nine years in state prison.
By pleading guilty, the 26-year-old Seger admitted that Laykovich, 22, died from the stab wounds suffered during their fight in the early morning hours of July 27, 2013, and the stabbing was solely Seger's fault.
“The biggest thing is they cleared Corey's name,” Michelle Metje said following the plea hearing in the Eastern Jackson County Courthouse in Independence. “He's telling the whole world it wasn't self-defense. That's what I wanted to hear.”
Metje reiterated what she told Judge Kanatzar in court, that through his organ donations and inspiring Metje and husband Bob Norris to found the non-profit group Corey's Network, Laykovich will have done more in death than Seger will ever do. One of the donor recipients, who has become a family friend, was in court Thursday a day after her birthday.
“I'll stay proud of my son for the rest of my life,” Metje said.
Corey's Network is designed to help families of homicide victims in the metro area with financial assistance, counseling and other services. To date, Metje said, the group has helped with more than 150 funerals.
More than five years ago, Laykovich and Seger crossed paths in the middle of the night near Laykovich's home. A heated argument and scuffle ensued, and after Seger stabbed Laykovich, the victim staggered home and collapsed in his bedroom, where his younger brother and then mother found him.
“Corey was trying to speak, but he'd already lost 2½ liters of blood into his stomach,” Metje said in court. “I said, 'Dammit, you can't do this to me.' He threw his hand back and breathed, and then I saw the hole in his stomach.”
In the weeks following Laykovich's death, Seger's name had come up as a person who might have wanted to hurt Laykovich, but at the time he was only known by his nickname “Cody” since he generally had been homeless. Even after police learned his full name, detectives didn't have enough information to bring him in as a person of interest.
Other than that, detectives could only piece together that Laykovich had been near his house when he was stabbed, and a resident of the apartment complex there heard and saw two people arguing in the middle of the night.
In January 2017, Seger was arrested following a police chase. According to court documents, he told police he knew about Laykovich and admitted getting into a fight with him, claiming Laykovich had pulled out the knife and he managed to wrestle it away and Laykovich was stabbed when they fell on the ground.
Seger said he then fled and threw the knife away in the woods, ran to a friend's apartment and slept there for two days. He said he was sorry for what he'd done and that stabbing hadn't been “malicious.”
Metje told The Examiner that Laykovich only had a pocket knife, which was found unused in his drawstring backpack.
After he stumbled home, Laykovich was pronounced dead the next day at the hospital.
Before Metje testified following Seger's plea, she read a statement from her son Joshua Metje, who is away at college. It said in part “All I can think of is the nightmare I try to leave behind,” and that “I would rather be blind than see the holes you put in my brother's body.”
Metje grew too emotional to finish and had Kanatzar read the rest of the statement himself.
Metje's sister, Cathy Reynolds, recalled how her late nephew would sneak gift cards in her mailbox so that she could provide some Christmas gifts for her children.
“Now, I have the memory of him in the hospital,” she said. “I have the memory of my sister collapsing to her knees when they told her he was gone.”
Laykovich's wife Ashley, with whom he was separated at the time, recalled that he “had a sense of humor that could make a bad day disappear.”
His death was so shattering that she tried more than once to commit suicide.
“This is not something your move on from,” she said. “You just learn to live with it.”
Before Kanatzar issued the sentence, Seger said, “A man should not be judged by his circumstances; a man should be judged by how he handles those circumstances.”
“Life is tough,” he said, and “not fair.”
Court records show that in between the Laykovich's death and Seger's confession, Seger had pleaded guilty in April 2016 to several felony charges in separate cases in Jackson County, including burglary, tampering with a motor vehicle and resisting arrest.
He received a five-year concurrent sentence, but Metje said he was given a 120-day drug rehabilitation and probation. Seger could still face federal charges for felony weapon possession, she said.