Donna Kulick’s hand trembled as she took a piece of paper from the prosecutor Thursday and made her way to the witness stand, just a few feet from the man convicted of killing the mother of the child she was left to raise.
Sitting down, she read a statement on behalf of a family that has spent the past two years waiting for Terry Speaks to be punished for his role in the killing of Jaren Lockhart.
Kulick spoke of countless nights spent trying to console her granddaughter, Rylie Lockhart, who was 3 years old when her mother was taken on June 6, 2012, stabbed once in the heart, dismembered and thrown into the Gulf of Mexico.
“The laughter, the hugs, the sense of security and those opportunities to say ‘I love you’ are forever gone,” she said.
Kulick said Rylie still cries for her mother, and the family dreads the day they will have to fully explain what happened to her.
“May God forgive you,” she said, addressing Speaks directly, “because right now, we are not able to find it in our hearts to forgive you for what you have done to this family.”
Minutes later, Speaks, 42, was sentenced to life in prison plus 40 years for the killing and the grisly attempted cover-up of the crime. He said nothing during the hearing except to answer a few questions from the judge, and he showed no sign of emotion.
His alleged accomplice, Margaret Sanchez, is scheduled to go to trial Dec. 7.
Judge Stephen Grefer, of 24th Judicial District Court, handed Speaks the maximum sentences on all three counts: life without possibility of parole, probation or suspended sentence for second-degree murder; 40 years for obstruction of justice; and 20 years for conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Grefer said the murder was terrible enough, but the mutilation of Lockhart’s body showed a complete disregard for the victim’s family. A lesser sentence, he told Speaks, would “depreciate the seriousness of your crime.”
“It is difficult for this court to imagine anything more heinous,” he said.
The jury also heard prosecutor Doug Freese read a statement from Lockhart’s close friend Andrea Swaim, who said she has been plagued by nightmares since the night Lockhart disappeared. She doesn’t go out often and has to take medication to deal with the fear, she said.
“My life is completely different now that I have experienced something as horrific as this,” she wrote.
Swaim said it would be easy for strangers to pass judgment on Lockhart for her tattoos and her line of work, dancing at Temptations Gentlemen’s Club on Bourbon Street. But she said Lockhart was known among friends as a free spirit and a loving sister, mother and daughter.
Putting Lockhart’s killers behind bars, she said, will let the family “try to mend the broken life we have all been living for the last three years.”
Thursday’s hearing got off to an uncertain start when Speaks’ attorney, John Benz, asked that sentencing be delayed. Benz said he had only just learned that Speaks recently mailed a handwritten motion asking the judge to reverse the jury’s verdict and acquit him, a request the court hadn’t received.
The court already was scheduled to take up a motion for a new trial that Speaks filed earlier this week. In that request, Speaks said he would have disclosed a suicide attempt and a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder if Grefer had asked about his mental state before granting him the right to act as his own attorney during the trial.
Freese objected to any delay, pointing out the apparent contradiction of a man calling himself mentally unfit to act as his own lawyer even as he continues mailing in his own post-verdict motions.
“He can’t have it both ways,” Freese said.
Grefer let the hearing proceed after entering a draft copy of the acquittal motion that Speaks had brought with him to the courtroom. Grefer ultimately denied that request, saying there was, in fact, sufficient evidence to convict Speaks and that the verdict was not contrary to the evidence presented.
Moving on to the motion for a new trial, Freese argued that Speaks had provided no evidence to back up the claim that the court was derelict in its duty.
Freese noted that the defendant’s history of attempted suicide had come up before in court, adding that “regrettably for Ms. Lockhart, those attempts were unsuccessful.”
Benz argued that the judge almost certainly would not have granted Speaks the right to defend himself had he asked first about his mental health. “I think that’s reason enough to have a new trial,” Benz said.
Grefer, however, ruled that Speaks gave no indication during the trial that he was mentally ill, instead competently representing himself for two days and participating in his defense after his lawyers resumed their representation. Grefer noted that Speaks did not request a mental evaluation at any point during the trial, nor did he do so when he pleaded guilty earlier this year to a sex offender charge.
Grefer also dismissed a second proposed rationale for holding a new trial: the possibility that television interviews given by Mississippi investigators may have tainted the jury. Grefer noted that he had brought the jury into the courtroom and asked them if they had seen or heard any of the reports.
That the television coverage had no effect on jurors, “I think was answered during the course of the trial,” Grefer said.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.