James Womble, 23, expressed remorse on Wednesday for murdering his landlord Peter Gillespie, 63, before he was sentenced to 19 years in prison for second-degree murder.
In the hearing, Womble, wearing a blue jumpsuit and shackles, turned his head toward the family and friends of the man he killed. Gillespie’s family and friends filled up most of seats on the opposite side of the courtroom.
“I never wanted to hurt Peter,” Womble said. “I hope one day you guys can find forgiveness in your hearts, just like one day I will find forgiveness for myself.”
In the jury trial that ended in April, Womble was found guilty for murdering Gillespie in 2017. The altercation between the two started after the landlord had approached Womble looking for his late rent.
Gillespie had allowed Womble to hold back from paying rent the month before the stabbing because the landlord had broken Womble's bong. But on the day of the stabbing, Gillespie understood that Womble owed him rent.
Womble told several versions of the events of their altercation to police investigators before the trial, but whatever actually happened, it ended with Womble stabbing Gillespie with scissors.
A medical examiner explained in the trial that Gillespie had been stabbed eight times by Womble, with at least one fatal stab wound puncturing the landlord’s heart. Womble said he did not think the scissors would have been fatal, according to his presentence report.
Womble said he plans to work as soon as possible when he is in prison. When he gets out, he hopes to create a business and jobs for others, after hopefully getting a business degree.
Family and friends who testified on behalf of both Womble and Gillespie during the sentencing shed tears as they attempted to influence Judge Mark Moran’s decision on how long Womble would go to prison. Ethel Stanley, Gillespie’s sister, testified about the hole that her brother’s death has caused in their lives.
“I have been sentenced with my family to a life of pain that murderer James Womble’s actions have caused,” Stanley said. “Please do not look at him and give him a lighter sentence because of his age.”
Stanley said it was “inconceivable” that after Womble was released from detention ahead of the trial, he returned to live at the home where her brother was killed. Her sister Susan Kensel said she took over Gillespie’s finances after his death, and described how her brother rebuilt a rundown home, benefiting the neighborhood.
“I have never remembered life without my brother,” Kensel said. “It’s so hard to realize he’s gone. I will miss him until I die.”
Several people close to Womble testified on his behalf, saying this trial had not portrayed the man they knew. His girlfriend Ricki Collins felt that Womble hadn’t been portrayed right throughout the trial.
“He’s not the monster that everyone tries to put him out to be,” Collins said. “He has a heart. He’s a human being. He does regret what he has done.”
Womble’s brother Angelo Womble spoke to the judge and described his brother as a hardworking man who was outgoing and honest.
“We as well will hurt from James’s absence. He will forever carry that burden,” Angelo said. “It will eat at him, I know that.”
Coconino County Attorney Bill Ring attended the hearing and felt that murders are unacceptable, and should be punished.
“Mr. Womble murdered his landlord with a pair of scissors in an all-too-common argument over rent. There is no justification for ending a quarrel with a killing,” Ring said. “Our prosecutors Mr. Shea and Mr. Stanley made this clear. Lives were ruined, public safety is restored, and now justice must be served.”
Scott Buffon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @scottbuffon or by phone at (928) 556-2250.
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