Denounced as "evil" and "despicable," three young friends who plotted the killing of a developmentally disabled Walmart cashier who had been hitting on a co-worker drew long prison terms Monday.
Timothy Smith, Anthony Howe and Amber Talbot, who pleaded guilty to murder and conspiracy in the October 2008 death of 25-year-old Christopher Gray, sat at adjoining tables in court as the victim's family members tearfully remembered him and berated his killers.
"Just remember that night," said David Kemp, 33, Gray's brother. "I hope it eats you and eats you and eats you until can't take it (any) longer."
Smith and Howe each got 40 years to life and Talbot 25 to 50 years for taking the Groton, Vt., man to a mobile home under the pretext of watching movies. There, Smith, 24, and Howe, 19, who are cousins, stabbed and strangled him as they stood around a campfire.
Gray, an aspiring auto mechanic whose buoyant personality helped him overcome a low IQ, attention deficit disorder and a speech impediment, became a target after wooing Talbot, 18, who also worked at the Woodsville Walmart.
Her boyfriend, Michael Robie, 19, became enraged when he heard about it and plotted revenge, enlisting the other three from his cell. Robie, who was heard discussing the attack in tape-recorded telephone calls from jail, has pleaded guilty to assault and conspiracy.
He is awaiting sentencing.
On the night Gray went missing, Walmart surveillance video showed the three picking him up after work at the Woodsville store, before they drove to Talbot's home. "He was only there because he wanted you to be his friend," his father, Michael Gray, told them Monday.
Talbot hung her head, her brown hair falling in her face, as Gray's "mom," legal guardian Annie Crowley, 38, of Groton, Vt., chided her as the one who lured Gray.
"Are you more than just a stupid girl that who caught up with the wrong crowd?" she told Talbot, standing at a podium in the hushed courtroom. "I think so. I believe all the young men involved are your victims."
Crowley, who had been his guardian for about two years before his death, broke down in tears as she read her statement. "How am I supposed to live with myself, knowing that I was his guardian? I was supposed to be looking out for him," she said.
Shirley Kingsbury, Gray's aunt, stood by the podium as Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin read her statement for her.
"You are despicable human beings," he read from her statement. "My heart is broken forever."
Smith, who had confessed to the killing in a handwritten letter to Gray's family after the slaying, apologized again Monday.
"I see Chris every time I try to sleep. No matter how many times I say I'm sorry, I can't bring him back. But I wish I could. That night, I should've told Chris what we planned on doing, and not to come," Smith said.
Before the sentencings, Gray's family and friends threw an appreciation luncheon for police and prosecutors from Vermont and New Hampshire who cracked the case.
A dozen uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives received lapel pins from Crowley in an informal ceremony before sitting down to a buffet lunch at a community organization's office in nearby Wells River, Vt.
"It was my honor to work on this case," said Assistant New Hampshire Attorney General Lucy Carrillo, as she stepped up to have Crowley pin her.
"We just felt it was important that they be recognized for the work they put into it," said Crowley. "I felt Chris would have appreciated that and would have wanted us to be grateful," she said.