Troy Hester apologized Wednesday to the family of murder victim Allison Brownell but stopped short of admitting he shot her, while his attorney continued to maintain the convicted killer’s innocence.
Hester, 32, was sentenced to life in prison by Hall County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Chessher Oliver, Georgia’s mandatory minimum sentence for murder.
"To the family, I’d like to say ‘I’m sorry,’" Hester said. "This was my family just as much as it was y’all’s family. I loved her from the bottom of my heart."
Hester said of the Oct. 1, 2007, shooting, "I don’t know exactly what happened that night. I don’t know what to really say to make anybody understand."
Prosecutors say Hester shot his live-in girlfriend in the head with a .40-caliber handgun, then called 911 and reported that she shot herself.
A jury convicted Hester of murder last week after a two-week trial.
"This wasn’t a tragic accident," Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Bagwell said during Wednesday’s sentencing hearing. "Twelve people have decided that Troy Hester murdered Allison Brownell.
"He murdered Allison Brownell, planted the gun on her and claimed it was suicide to save his own butt."
Hester’s attorney, assistant circuit defender Brett Willis, told the judge he continues to believe his client was "convicted of a crime he didn’t commit."
"To Troy and his family, I am terribly sorry," Willis said.
Several friends and family of Hester’s addressed the court prior to sentencing, asking for mercy. Brownell’s family members made victim impact statements.
Bill Brownell, the grandfather of Allison Brownell’s two daughters, described in a letter read aloud in court how the murder had a serious impact on their lives. Brownell noted that until his conviction, Hester had remained free on bond pending the trial.
"For 17 months, they walked around knowing that the person who put a bullet in their mother’s head was walking the streets — a free man; and that they may even run into him somewhere," Bill Brownell wrote.
Allison Brownell’s father, John Hunter, told the judge that "just as I know nothing will bring Allison back, I also know that whatever the sentence handed down today, it will not be near punishment for the crimes he has been convicted of."
Hester will become eligible for parole on the murder conviction in 30 years, though he must serve an additional five years imposed by the judge for a weapons offense. Oliver also imposed two years of probation for third-degree cruelty to children, if Hester is ever released.