MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. The former minister of a small Michigan congregation was sentenced Thursday to at least 56 years in prison for killing his fiancee's 24-year-old daughter, allegedly to fulfill a fantasy to have sex with a dead body.
Isabella County Chief Circuit Judge Paul Chamberlain ordered 55-year-old John D. White to serve from 56 to 85 years behind bars, saying he saw no reason why White, who had two prior convictions for attacking women, should ever leave prison.
White pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder as a habitual third offender in the slaying last Halloween of Rebekah Gay. According to police, White confessed to killing Gay in her Broomfield Township home because he wanted to have sex with a dead body.
White was engaged to Gay's mother and regularly looked after Gay's young son while she was working, according to a member of the tiny church he led, the Christ Community Fellowship church in Deerfield Township, which is about 60 miles north of Detroit.
Prosecutors say on the day of the killing, White drank several beers before going to Gay's mobile home, where he repeatedly struck her in the head with a mallet and then strangled her with a zip tie. Her son, then 3, was home at the time. White dumped her body in the woods, returned to Gay's home and dressed her son in his Halloween costume before dropping him off with his father.
Police said White had undressed Gay's body, but he couldn't remember if he had had sex with it.
As authorities searched for Gay's body in a rural area in Isabella County, about 85 miles northwest of Lansing, White asked his roughly 14-member congregation to pray for her.
"For 20 excruciating hours we prayed that Rebekah" would come home, her mother, Sally Gay, told White in court Thursday. "She was not yours to take. How dare you."
Sally Gay asked the court to show the man she was once engaged to the same lack of mercy he showed her daughter. She said her family was devastated by the death of Rebekah, whom she called the family's "heart and soul," and she said her daughter's 4-year-old son will suffer more than anyone.
Church members have said they were aware of White's criminal past when he joined them. He was released from prison in 2007 after serving nearly 12 years for manslaughter in the death of a 26-year-old woman in Kalamazoo County. He had previously been sentenced to probation for choking and stabbing a 17-year-old Battle Creek girl in 1981.
Sally Gay said Thursday that White is not the person she knew before he killed her daughter, and that she thinks he wanted to return to the structured environment of prison.
Rebekah's sister, Deborah Gay, said her family wants to see the creation of a registry for violent offenders such as White. She said her sister might be alive if she had known about White's violent history.