Melvin Lee Carter killed the mother of his children in cold blood, according to prosecutors, and on Friday he was sentenced to 21 years to life in prison.
Carter was convicted of second-degree murder, false imprisonment and assault with a deadly weapon in June for the murder of 31-year-old Christina Michelle Jones on Dec.17, 2009.
Jones and Carter had two children together. Prosecutors suspect both children were in the room at the time of their mother's death.
The killing ended a long history of domestic violence between the couple, who, prosecutors said, met five years ago when Jones was dancing at a local strip club. That history began to be documented by local law enforcement in November 2007, when Carter punched Jones in the face, an act he later admitted and was sentenced to probation for. Carter was arrested roughly two years after that incident when Jones reported he had struck her again.
The killing took place shortly after Carter's family put up the bail for his release, prosecutors told the jury.
Carter's defense attorney Debby Kirkwood acknowledged during the trial that her client had killed Jones but maintained that it was a crime of passion, for which her client should be convicted of voluntary manslaughter.
Prosecutor Scott Pirrello, though, told the court that Carter planned the killing when he was still in jail. The motive Pirrello assigned to Carter: Revenge for not bailing Carter out on the December 2009 domestic violence charge.
Carter went to the couple's Golden Hill home on the day of the murder and forced his way in, then locked the door behind him, trapping Jones, their two young children and her cousin Jennifer Bradford inside. At one point, approximately six to seven hours later, Jones locked herself in the bathroom to call 911, Pirrello told the court. When Bradford tried to escape through the door, Carter broke into the bathroom and strangled Jones, who was heard gasping for breath on a 911 tape played during the trial.
"I want you to know when you die, I would beg to be the first person to receive your death phone call to know that your demonic self is no longer breathing,"said the victim's cousin Jennifer Bradford during sentencing.
"You strangled her, you killed her,"screamed Jones' sister Andrea Martin. "I hope you sleep every night dreaming about what you did and suffer for it, I hate you."
Pirrello said that the couple's children, who were 16 months old and 5 months old at the time of the killing, were present during the incident but it's not certain that they witnessed their mother's death.
"The theory was that they were in the room that she was ultimately strangled in, because we know the children were put to sleep in their cribs in the room that Christina Jones' body was found," Pirrello said. "We're not sure if the kids were awake or asleep, but the children were awake and present for the assault that occurred earlier in the night involving Melvin Carter coming at Jennifer Bradford with a knife."
During sentencing, Carter owned up to his crime. With tears streaming from his eyes, he apologized to Jones' family. "I'm not going to sit here and be in denial about what happened because I am guilty and I can never take it back."