OPELIKA, Ala. (CBS/AP) The family of slain college freshman, Lauren Burk, said they were "at peace" Thursday evening after an Alabama jury recommended a life sentence without the possibility of parole for an Iraq War veteran convicted of capital murder in her 2008 abduction and shooting death.
"Our family went through a tough two and a half years...to get to this resolution today," said Lauren's father, Jim Burk, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution. "Our family is at peace."
Jurors deliberated about six-and-a-half hours over two days before convicting 26-year-old Courtney Lockhart, of rural Smith Station, Thursday in the killing of the 18-year-old Auburn University freshman.
But in nearly an hour the jury voted 12-0 to recommend life without parole to Judge Jacob Walker III, who delivered the verdict as Burk's family and friends stood by - overwhelmed with emotions, reports The Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Lockhart's mother, Catherine Williams, took the witness stand and offered a sorrowful apology to Burk's mother, Viviane Guerchon, reports the paper.
"I am sorry from the bottom of my heart," Williams said according to AJC. "If I could take away what happened to your daughter, I would. But I don't have that power. I feel your pain because I'm a mother too. If I could, I would get up and hug you, but they probably wouldn't let me do that. I am sorry."
Lockhart's defense attorneys told jurors in opening statements that he did not intentionally kill Burk and argued that he was mentally troubled after he returned from a tour of Iraq with the Army. He had pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental defect, and did not testify.
In a videotaped statement Lockhart admitted to kidnapping and robbing Burk, of Marietta, Ga., but claimed his gun just "went off" when she attempted to get out of the car the night of March 4, 2008.
But according to medical testimony, Burk was shot in the back and died shortly after the bullet passed through her lungs. She collapsed on the road as Lockhart drove away.
Judge Walker is not bound by the jury's recommendation and has tentatively set a sentencing hearing for Jan. 28.
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