In a teary courtroom yesterday, a young man who fatally shot another man suspected of killing Michelle Nau, an escort and aspiring real-estate agent, was sentenced to 6 1/2 to 15 years in prison.

The guidelines called for a five-to-40-year term.

Domenic Curcio, 18, grabbed media interest because of his link to Nau's alleged killer. But the story yesterday was of a kid with a boyish smile who somehow got messed up with drugs and of a family who dearly loves him.

Curcio took responsibility for shooting George Conway, 48, in the older man's Mayfair apartment March 1, 2006. Curcio did so, according to court testimony at his preliminary hearing last year, because Conway had bragged about killing Nau, 37, and discarding her body. Curcio was high on PCP and cocaine then.

Yesterday, Curcio apologized before Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner while about 35 family members and friends sat in the courtroom in support.

"I apologize to George and his family," he said, dabbing his eyes with a tissue. "But it's not enough. Please have mercy on me, your Honor."

Neither Curcio nor his family asked the judge to see his case as one in which Curcio rid society of a bad man - the man police believe killed Nau, possibly by asphyxiation, in his apartment Feb. 4, 2006, after a night of drugs and partying.

Lerner also said he wasn't taking into account any allegations that Conway killed Nau: "I understand the presumption of innocence."

The defendant's mother, Karen Curcio, told Lerner how sorry the family was and how she felt she "failed in getting him help when he had his drug addiction."

"But what happens when it becomes an addiction?" she wondered. First, she said, she thought it was just marijuana, then later learned her son had gotten into cocaine.

Curcio, who enjoyed reading as a youth, grew up in New Jersey, then most recently lived with his brother in Frankford, his mother said. His father died when he was 12.

Lerner and defense attorney Brian McMonagle told Karen Curcio that she is not to blame for her son's addiction.

"I truly believe," McMonagle told the court, "but for drugs, this kid would not be sitting here." He asked the judge for a shorter sentence.

Assistant District Attorney Gail Fairman asked for a longer sentence. Although the court will never know whether Conway actually killed Nau, she said, it is up to the system to address crime, not for citizens to take things into their own hands.

In sentencing Curcio, Lerner said he was taking into account the defendant's acceptance of responsibility, including his March 21 guilty plea to third-degree murder, his remorse, and the role drugs played in the case.

The remains of Nau, of Oxford Circle, have never been found. Following a tip that her body had been set on fire in a Philadelphia trash bin, police searched for it at a waste-to-energy facility in Chester, where the trash contents were dumped.

Their search was unsuccessful. *