Juvenile Lifer Resentenced to At Least 48 Years for Murdering Girlfriend

Robert Buli, 16 when he planned the murder of his former girlfriend in 1978 and enlisted a friend to help him carry it out, was re-sentenced Monday to 48 years to life in state prison.

Buli, 55, had been serving a life sentence since 1979 for the slaying of 17-year-old Diane Goeke in Middletown Township. He was the third of six inmates from Bucks County serving mandatory life sentences for murders committed as juveniles to be re-sentenced.

Similar proceedings are being held throughout Pennsylvania as a result of recent federal and state appellate court decisions. Those decisions declared mandatory life sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional, requiring new hearings to reconsider those sentences.

Having served 39 years since his arrest, Buli will be eligible for parole in nine years, when he is 64 years old.

John Lekka, Buli’s accomplice in the murder, was resentenced in October to 45 years to life for the same crime. Lekka’s record in prison was considered more exemplary than Buli’s.

Buli nonetheless had been misconduct-free for the past 28 years. Bucks County Common Pleas Court Judge Rea B. Boylan, who imposed the new sentence, credited him with making strides toward rehabilitating himself, saying she no longer considers Buli a risk to the community.

At the same time, “this was an incredibly brutal murder,” the judge said. “This was more than an impulsive act to fire a gun or strike a blow…. This is a murder that involved great suffering for the victim.”

On Nov. 13, 1978, Buli and Lekka beat Goeke repeatedly with a two-by-four board and metal pipes, and left her for dead in a small, underground fort near their homes in Levittown. After returning hours later to find her still alive, they fatally crushed her by dropping a 220-pound piece of concrete on her head.

Goeke’s body was found Nov. 14, 1978, by children from a nearby school who were gathering autumn leaves.

Two months before the murder, Goeke had given birth to a daughter fathered by Buli. The baby was given up for adoption. Buli was severely punished by his parents and forbidden from seeing Goeke.

Believing Goeke again was pregnant in November, Buli hatched a plan to murder her and recruited Lekka to help him.

“For many years I have wished to express the remorse, guilt, sorrow and shame that I feel for what I have done and to apologize for the endless pain and suffering that I have caused the Goeke family, my family, the Lekka family and each and every individual within the community,” Buli said in court, choking on tears as he read his statement.

“I admit that there is no rational excuse for what I have done and the destruction that I have caused. I assume full responsibility for my horrific actions that resulted in the senseless and tragic death of Diane Goeke. As a beautiful and intelligent young woman with her whole life ahead of her, she did not deserve the terrible fate that she suffered by my hands,” he said. “The remorse and sorrow that I feel for what I have done is beyond my ability to put into words.”

In 1979, Buli and Lekka pleaded guilty to a general charge of homicide, and were convicted of first-degree murder at a degree-of-guilt hearing. Both received mandatory life sentences without parole, plus a consecutive five to 10 years for conspiracy.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentences of life without parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.

In 2016, the Supreme Court further held in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its findings in Miller v. Alabama should apply retroactively. That decision meant more than 2,000 juvenile lifers nationwide would have to be re-sentenced.

In June 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in Pennsylvania v. Batts that there is a presumption against imposing a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile offender. The ruling placed the burden on the Commonwealth to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the juvenile offender is incapable of being rehabilitated before he or she can receive a life sentence.

Victim impact testimony was not allowed at the time of Buli’s original sentence, so Boylan could not consider it Monday.

Buli and his attorneys agreed, however, to allow written statements submitted by Goeke’s family and friends to be read in court by Deputy District Attorney Jennifer M. Schorn. Those statements will be part of the record that could be considered someday by the parole board.

“Over the years, I suppose the grief eased for most of us,” wrote Karen Yates, the victim’s cousin. “But it was carved like scars in the faces and voices of Diane’s immediate family….

Diane Goeke’s mother, “who was always the epitome of optimism and good cheer, grew to be a more serious and somber person, and found escape in her religion. It broke my heart to see that the sorrow never left her eyes,” Yates wrote.

Goeke’s father “seemed like a shadow of his former jovial self, and until his death never recovered from the effects of Diane’s death,” Yates continued. “Diane’s older sister, Gail Marie, has a severe cognitive disability. She cannot verbalize, and so we may never know the depth to which she was affected by the loss of the little sister she loved.”

Goeke’s twin sister, Suzann, moved away to North Carolina as soon as she was able to, settling near her mother’s relatives. Now terminally ill and unable to travel, she gave a deposition last year during a visit to Doylestown.

Suzann Goeke described her sister as a good-natured, caring girl who did well in school and aspired to be a secretary.

“My parents clung to their only comfort in knowing that [Buli and Lekka] would remain in prison for the rest of their lives for taking their daughter’s life,” she said. “Now I am relieved they are not here to see the recent turn of events…”

Suzann Goeke said she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and still suffers “from the trauma of the events of that night. They replay over and over, just as if it was a movie playing. The details, feelings and horror of that time feels as if it was yesterday.”

She said she had met her sister’s child for the first time the week before giving the deposition. Already acquainted through two years of phone calls, they made plans to memorialize Diane Goeke in North Carolina.

Buli, too, spoke in court of the child he had fathered, a woman who now has children of her own.

“What profound emotions she must have experienced when she searched us out and discovered her mother was dead and her father was responsible for it,” he said. “How shocking it must have been and the confusion of feelings that must have come over her.”

Buli said he would “never forget how many innocent lives were affected by what I did. The ripple effect of my destructive behavior that night reaches far and wide and spans over decades.”

Boylan accepted the terms of the agreement, vacated Buli’s life sentence, and imposed the new sentence, which includes a concurrent five to 10 years for conspiracy.

“I have never heard more eloquently explained by victims and the defendant about how a crime affects generations,” the judge said. “I rarely hear such eloquence about the impact of a decision [to harm] another human being.”

Contact: Jennifer M. Schorn, 215.348.6337, jmschorn@buckscounty.org