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Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press
Thelma Soares, mother of Lori Hacking, cries out in anguish to Mark Hacking, right, during his sentencing. "How could you do that, Mark? How could you do that to me?" she asked.

A tearful Mark Hacking, who said he still loves his wife but couldn't explain why he murdered her last summer as she slept, was sentenced Monday to six years to life in prison by a judge who called him "the poster child for dishonesty."

Hacking, 29, fooled his family and thousands of volunteer searchers into believing his wife, Lori, 27, disappeared while jogging in Memory Grove on July 19. The investigation later showed he had been leading an elaborately constructed double life — pretending to attend and then graduate from the University of Utah and pretending to be entering medical school in North Carolina.

Court documents disclosed he shot his wife after she learned of his duplicity and dumped her body in a trash bin. Lori's badly decomposed body was found in the county landfill by police Oct. 1 after a 33-day search.

Hacking pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder in April.

"Mark Hacking is the poster child for dishonesty in its most extreme form," 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg said as she pronounced the sentence, adding she will recommend to the Board of Pardons that Hacking serve "a very, very long time."

This is the strongest sentence Utah's "indeterminate sentencing" rules allow for a first-degree felony committed with a weapon. How long Hacking spends in prison is up to the state parole board. Prosecutors said they did not have evidence to charge him with a capital crime, which could have resulted in the death penalty.

Shortly before her death, Lori had confided to friends that she was about five weeks pregnant, according to a home pregnancy test.

"I killed her and my unborn child," Hacking said, weeping. "I put them in the garbage. I can't explain why I did it. I know I wasn't myself that night, but that's no excuse."

Hacking described his wife as "his heart and soul" and said he still loves her and misses her every day.

"I am tormented every waking minute for what I have done," he said. "I deserve to be in prison, probably for the rest of my life."

Thelma Soares, Lori's mother, also wept as she delivered an eloquent and emotional statement in court about the loss of her beloved daughter and her unborn grandchild.

"He now tells me he's sorry, but his words ring hollow," she told the judge.

Turning to Hacking, Soares cried out in an anguished voice, "How could you do that, Mark? How could you do that to me?"

Hacking replied, "I'm sorry."

Soares also was stunned by the extent of Hacking's lies: He pretended to be a college student even to the extent of seeking Soares' help on fake term papers and storing textbooks in her garage.

"It's impossible for me to separate my own life from the lies," Soares said. "It makes me feel like I'm a supporting actress in a third-class horror movie that never ends."

Paul Soares, Lori's brother, described Hacking as "a selfish person" who deceived an entire community and who could not have really loved Lori.

"You don't callously murder someone you love," Paul Soares said. "We realized too late Mark is nothing more than a con man."

Prosecutor Robert Stott said the case no doubt will leave many questions unanswered. "Now is not the time to wonder what manner of man Mark Hacking is. . . . Now is the time for punishment," he said.

The big question that lingered for many throughout the case was the reason why Hacking killed his wife.

Defense attorney Gil Athay said he thinks he understands what happened. But Athay is not sure if the public will ever understand.

"This was a killing, in Mark's words, 'of love.' He loved her so much. He saw the pain she was in," Athay said. "He loved her so much he wanted to take her out of her pain."

On the night Hacking shot Lori, they talked for over an hour, during which time he revealed all of his lies to her, causing her extreme emotional pain, Athay said.

After they were done talking, Lori got ready for bed and Hacking continued packing for their move to North Carolina. As he was packing, he came across his gun.

"In the briefest of moments, he was in a mental state that was somewhat fantasy land," Athay said.

Hacking walked into the bedroom, shot Lori and then walked back to the room where he was packing and sat down, Athay said. For a few moments, Hacking wondered if he had just been dreaming. But Athay said he then went back into the bedroom and discovered his nightmare was a reality.

There was no premeditation whatsoever in the murder, Athay said. And while he said there was no excuse for the murder, the best Athay could say to explain why it happened was the result of a unique combination of an early head injury, depression and stress coming together.

"I hope no parent ever has to go what we've gone through," Hacking's father, Douglas Hacking, said while fighting back tears as he addressed the media after the hearing.

Douglas Hacking admitted it was difficult to talk about his son without sounding like he was making excuses for Lori's "senseless" murder. But he said, "More than anything, we knew Mark loved Lori."

Douglas Hacking said Mark suffers continuously for his choices.

"I'm not sure any of us will understand what Mark did. I'm not sure he'll understand," he said.

It will be up to the parole board to decide when Mark Hacking is released from prison, but Douglas Hacking said his family hopes that will happen someday.

"We are proud of him for taking responsibility for his actions," he said. "We love him more now than we did before."

Athay said he is confident Hacking one day will be released from prison, possibly in 25 to 30 years.

"There's no question in my mind that Mark Hacking is not a danger to this community," he said.

As for his eternal salvation, Douglas Hacking said, they would leave it up to the Savior to "judge him with perfect justice and perfect mercy."

Eraldo Soares, Lori's father, had strong words, however, against his former son-in-law. He said he will attend all of Hacking's parole hearings and do what he can to make sure Hacking never gets out of prison.

"I don't believe Mark had regret today," he said. "Right now he's just a typical liar. I do not feel sorry for him. He has to pay for what he did."

Eraldo Soares urged corrections officials to keep Hacking behind bars for life.

"Send a message to all the future Marks in this Utah," Eraldo Soares told the judge in court. "If they commit a crime like that, they're going to rot in jail."

Eraldo Soares went on to say the only part of Hacking's courtroom apology he believed was when Hacking admitted to killing his wife and unborn child.

Athay said Hacking accepted responsibility very early in the case and absolutely did not want to go to trial. He said the only reason Hacking pleaded not guilty at an early hearing was simply because of the way the judicial system works.

"Mark wanted this case to be resolved at an early stage," Athay said.

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Mark Hacking's mother, brothers, grandparents and other family members stood together as his father tried to explain as best he could his son's actions.

Douglas Hacking said that on July 24 Mark confessed to his brothers everything he had done. They then called Athay, who in turned called Salt Lake City police.

It was also revealed Monday that Mark Hacking attempted suicide in the days following Lori's murder. A much-publicized incident involving Hacking at the Chase Suite Hotel, 765 E. 400 South, the night after Lori was reported missing was actually a suicide attempt, Athay said.

Hacking tried to overdose on medications and alcohol but only succeeded in putting himself in a state of delirium.

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com; preavy@desnews.com