SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- A man has been sentenced life in prison for the 2001 kidnapping, robbery and murder of an 81-year-old woman.
The jury took less than a half-hour Tuesday to return the sentence, sparing Paul Michael Hernandez a death sentence, the San Antonio Express-News reports in its Wednesday editions.
``I want you to tell them I'm so, so sorry for what happened,'' the 20-year-old convicted capital murderer said, sobbing.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors David Lunan and James Ishimoto said that Hernandez, by his own confession, took a tree branch and beat Elizabeth Paula Tate unconscious after she was set on fire in an Atascosa County cemetery.
``The facts of the case were that he could have been given the death penalty and we're very, very pleased that he got a life sentence,'' said Suzanne Kramer, co-defense counsel for Hernandez.
Hernandez was the first of three charged in Tate's death to be convicted. Also accused are Richard ``Tricky Ricky'' Alderete, 21, and Angel Vasquez, 20.
``It's as horrible and brutal a crime as we've ever seen,'' Lunan said. He said that District Attorney Susan Reed would decide whether to seek the death penalty for the two other defendants.
Vasquez surprised prosecutors and his defense attorney last week when he declined to testify against Hernandez. That voided a plea agreement Vasquez had with prosecutors that would have guaranteed him a life sentence in exchange for his testimony against his co-defendant. Now, Vasquez could face the death penalty.