DeLonde Pleasant said Thursday that when he stomped and pummeled his girlfriend to death in 2002, he was an angry man who did not love or respect himself.
But after spending nine years in prison participating in anger management, chemical dependency and vocational programs, Pleasant said he stood before the Franklin County Superior Court judge and Juanita Montelongo's family with "a new heart" and the chance to finally express his feelings.
Pleasant, who previously has said he's served his time for the first-degree manslaughter and should be a free man, acknowledged Thursday that "regardless of the time I get today, I'm going to be doing a life sentence, regardless."
"All Juanita gave me every day of her life was her heart. ... I miss her every day of my life. There is nothing I can say to bring her back because she's not coming back," he struggled to say while choking back tears. "Juanita did not deserve this. No woman deserves nothing like this. ... But it was me, your honor, I did that."
Judge Cameron Mitchell said he recognized the changes Pleasant has made behind bars and ordered him to serve 231/2 years in prison -- two years short of a sentence thrown out by a higher court.
Pleasant likely will spend 14 more years in prison, not counting time off for good behavior.
Mitchell paused for a couple of minutes before telling Pleasant and more than a dozen of Montelongo's loved ones that "nothing is going to undo the tragedy that occurred in this matter."
He also recognized that the new prison term "is not going to be sufficient to take away the loss that the Montelongo family is suffering and is continuing to suffer."
He said it was "a horrific, horrific event," and no one can put themselves in the victim's place and understand the fear and pain she had that night. He thanked the victim's family for their courage, time and patience to stick with the long court process.
He added that he knows they may be angered by the shortened term, but said he feels the sentence "is fair and just under the circumstances of this case."
Montelongo, 20, died in March 2002, after Pleasant returned to his Pasco home from a night of drinking and gambling and proceeded to hit his live-in girlfriend. He has admitted that he "just lost it," and only stopped when she was unresponsive.
She was pronounced dead later that morning at Kennewick General Hospital. A forensic pathologist said she had about 100 blows to her body, including four distinctive boot prints and a fresh bite mark.
The couple had been together for at least three years and had a 2-year-old son together. Montelongo also had a 4-year-old son.
Pleasant pleaded guilty in 2003 to manslaughter and received 251/2 years. But in early 2009, an appeals court said it should be up to a jury, not a judge, to decide if there were aggravating factors to warrant the lengthy term.
So in March of this year, a Franklin County jury listened to testimony and reviewed evidence before determining that his actions were deliberately cruel and were done while the couple's young child slept in another room.
Angel Montelongo told Pleasant on Thursday that when he took Juanita's life, he took a sister, a daughter, a friend, a niece and a granddaughter, but most importantly a mother whose two boys will never get to see their mommy again.
Angel talked about the anguish of having her sister's case returned to court so many years after they thought the legal process was over, and how it felt to hear Pleasant say he thought he would served enough time for the killing.
"You have constantly reminded us of the savage beating Juanita went through and what it must have felt like to take that last breath," she said. "The more years you spend behind bars, the more years another person can be spared by your abuse. ... You may feel like your time is over, but when was Juanita's time over? She will never have another chance to walk this Earth again. She deserved that and more."
Angel cried as she said Juanita Montelongo's loved ones may never see her smile again or hear her laughter, but she told Pleasant he did not take her spirit and they can only hope she has found peace.
Deputy Prosecutor Frank Jenny asked the judge to reinstate the 251/2-year sentence, which is three times the top of the sentencing guidelines. The standard range for manslaughter is 61/2 to 81/2 years.
Jenny said "what makes this case extraordinary is every one of those kicks and bites and stomps was felt by the victim, all the while knowing that her child was in the adjoining room."
Defense lawyer Karla Kane asked Thursday for another delay of the sentencing hearing so she could research comparable cases in the state, but the judge said she had "sufficient time. At some point this has to be resolved."
Kane -- who made it clear to the judge that she wasn't prepared and could be considered ineffective for being forced to go forward -- said 12 years and one month was appropriate for her client given the time he has already spent behind bars. She pointed out that her recommendation was above the standard range, yet said Pleasant "did not act with intent" and was "not in his right state of mind."
"I know that this is something that affects him dearly. He is in a lot of pain because of it and there is not a day that goes by he doesn't think about it," she said.
Kane also read five letters to the court, including one from Pleasant's mother, who said she would rather take her son's place so he could be free and know peace and happiness with his child. Another was from Pleasant's father, who said his son would move back to Georgia to live with him if released.
Pleasant, now 32, turned to Angel Montelongo and other family and friends and apologized for nine minutes. His own family was not in court.
"I'm sorry, man, especially to you, Angel, you know what I'm saying. You was her big sister and she loved you," he said. "... I'm responsible for this blanket of grief that's on everybody.
"All I can say, man, is I'm sorry, you know. ... She is always going to be loved and she is always going to be missed."
Pleasant told the court that while in prison he has learned "to respect human life" and he doesn't ever "want to open these wounds again" because it hurts, noting that the real victims are the Montelongos.
Mitchell advised Pleasant that he does have a right to appeal the sentence, but a notice must be filed within the next 30 days.
After the hearing, Angel Montelongo told the Herald she was OK with the two years difference in the sentence because it still doesn't bring her sister back. She just felt a sense of relief that this is behind them, and hopes Pleasant keeps his vow not to appeal again.