SALT LAKE CITY — Saturday should have been Maralee Andreason's 57th birthday. But instead of starting the celebration early, her family spent Friday ensuring that the man who killed her was given the maximum prison sentence.
And 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton saw to it that she handed down just that, ordering Thomas James Valdez to spend 15 years to life in prison for murder, a first-degree felony, to be followed by a consecutive sentence of zero to five years for possession of a firearm by a restricted person, a third-degree felony.
"I don't believe Mr. Valdez should ever be released from custody," Atherton said, noting the difficulty of listening to the evidence in the case. "(Andreason's family and friends) have an understandable anguish and pain because of your actions, Mr. Valdez. They were brutal and extreme."
Police found Andreason, 55, dead in the West Valley City apartment she shared with Valdez, 45, on March 9, 2010. She died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head, which caused her to bleed to death.
Defense attorneys said Valdez and Andreason were very much in love and planning to wed. Valdez was adamant that the woman, who suffered from heart problems, had fallen in the bathroom and suffered a heart attack.
But Andreason's family didn't buy that explanation.
"My mom was beaten to death," Andreason's son, Travis, said in court Friday. "She didn't have a heart attack, she didn't have a stroke. She was brutally beaten by someone she thought loved her."
A number of Andreason's family members spoke at the hearing, many of them describing the hole that was left in their lives by Andreason's death and their belief that Valdez is nothing short of "a monster." The harshest words came from a letter written by Andreason's mother.
"I hope and pray every night that the devils of hell will be with you to remind you of what you did to my precious daughter," the woman wrote.
Andreason's sister, Lisa Sealey, addressed the judge through a sign language interpreter, making statements on behalf of a number of individuals. She talked about Andreason's roles as a mother, sister, daughter, grandmother and friend and how her death changed their family's lives forever.
"We can't celebrate birthdays, holidays anymore because of him," Sealey said, turning to Valdez. "No person or reasonable human being would have done what you did to Maralee."
Family members spoke of the kind, caring and compassionate person that Andreason was and how she loved Valdez, even though her family often encouraged her to leave him.
"Maralee was more than just a mass of flesh and bones that was taking up space on Earth," Sealey said. "She was loved. She was loved. She loved you unconditionally and you wasted the love she had for you."
Valdez listened stone-faced, but at times, his face almost changed into a smirk. Valdez's defense attorney, Manny Garcia, had little to say during the hearing, beyond asking that Valdez receive concurrent sentences and be given credit for the 548 days he's been in custody.
"All we can say is, we had a trial, he testified, the jury rejected his testimony and he was convicted as charged," Garcia said. "Mr. Valdez is prepared for the consequences of this verdict. He does not want to make a statement."
After hearing the family's comments, Garcia added: "My condolences to the family."
It was unclear whether he spoke for himself or for his client.