Seven years after the death of 26-year-old LaTosha Taylor, her family is one step closer to closure. Tuesday morning, a Bibb County judge sentenced Jomekia Pope to life without the possibility of parole in the 2005 murder of Taylor, his ex-fiancee.
Justice is what weve been wanting all along, said Arleshia Pettigrew, Taylors mother.
She said she was disappointed when prosecutors allowed Pope to accept a plea bargain and avoid the possibility of a death sentence.
We never agreed to it, she said. But we do feel like we got justice.
Pope pleaded guilty to murder and arson last week in the Aug. 7, 2005, burning of Taylor. She suffered burns to more than 75 percent of her body and died less than two months later at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta.
Taylors family clapped and someone said Thank you, Jesus as Judge S. Phillip Brown announced the sentence following a two-day hearing in Bibb County Superior Court.
Dennis Francis, one of Popes lawyers, had requested earlier in the day that Brown leave the decision of whether Pope, 36, should be released from prison to the parole board.
There is a chance this person can turn his life around, Francis said.
District Attorney David Cooke requested that Pope receive life without parole.
This is the kind of case life without parole was made for, he told the judge.
After the hearing, Cooke said he consulted with experts in the field and Taylors family before deciding to offer the plea bargain.
After considering everything, I felt it was best to go forward with the plea of guilty and leaving the sentencing up to the judge, he said. Im confident we made the right decision.
While announcing Popes punishment, Brown said he spent a lot of time considering the sentence after having his emotions swing from one side to the other as he listened to testimony.
He also sentenced Pope to serve 20 years for the arson charge.
Brown said hes reserving the right to continue thinking about the case until the first week of February and consider amending the sentence.
After the hearing, John Vinson, one of Taylors uncles, said he wanted Pope to receive the death penalty.
He said people who kill women are among the worst criminals.
We got one more woman abuser, woman killer off the streets, Vinson said.
A well-adjusted inmate
Prior to the sentencing, Popes defense team called two witnesses to testify about his likelihood of being rehabilitated and value to society if paroled.
James Aiken, a corrections consultant, said he reviewed Popes Bibb County jail record.
The file contained documentation of Pope being caught with contraband on two occasions -- a pair of pliers and a cigarette lighter. It also showed hed helped jailers find a knife on the cell block, Aiken said.
Theres no evidence Pope used the pliers or cigarette lighter to cause harm.
Aiken said the record, coupled with his age and maturity, showed the behavior of a well-adjusted inmate.
Monique Grier, a Georgia Department of Corrections program development consultant, testified about a series of programs the prison system offers to inmates to help them re-enter society when released.
The programs offer help for inmates who suffered from alcohol abuse or had problems with domestic violence before incarceration. They also offer vocational training to aid inmates in learning a career skill, Grier said.
Participation in the programs are voluntary and the parole board considers whether inmates have taken part in the programs when deciding whether to grant parole, she said.
Doctors who treated Taylors burns, an arson investigator, a neighbor and members of Taylors and Popes families testified Monday.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.