Robert Thompson declined to be interviewed for this article, citing concerns that a newspaper report could harm the chances of his appeal. But he gave his side of the story in testimony at his trial.
He had been drinking heavily all evening, he testified. He and Kimberly Garnett argued about Marvin Johnson Jr., a mutual friend Thompson suspected was dating Garnett.
After falling asleep on a love seat in the living room, Thompson testified, he awoke when something struck him in the ankle. Then something hit his hand. He began punching.
He had no idea he was striking Garnett, he said, until she spoke.
"What, if anything, did she say?" asked his lawyer, Thomas Peters.
He said she swore at him, impugned his virility and told him she had been cheating through their entire relationship.
"After she said what she said, I just—like I went into a rage."
He didn't realize how badly she was hurt, he testified, and went to sleep.
When he awoke, he asked Garnett if she was OK, and she said she was.
A few hours later he awoke again, he said, and she had stopped breathing.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Jennifer Coleman, he said he had struck Garnett 4 to 10 times over 10 to 15 minutes with a 2-by-4. Thompson told Coleman that he was "out of it" while he was hitting Garnett.
"So when you say you're out of it, does that mean that you're hitting her all over her body?" Coleman asked.
"That means I'm swinging that stick hard and fast," Thompson answered, "I don't know where I was hitting her."
In the morning, he said, Garnett said she couldn't breathe because it was hot in the house.
At his sentencing hearing, Thompson expressed a measure of remorse. "I . . . would like to just tell you how very sorry I am that this happened. . . . I lived a very sinful life. . . . I . . . loved Kimberly, Koby, Armon and [their daughter] Natalia. And I wish things would have gone the other way," he said.
Before imposing a sentence of 50 years, Judge Lawrence Fox acknowledged that friends and relatives had spoken on Thompson's behalf as a loving, non-violent man.
However, Fox said, "the evidence completely contradicts all of those statements."
He dismissed Thompson's claim that he did not realize how badly Garnett was hurt.
"How is the defendant supposed to think she's OK if she's saying, 'I can't breathe'? . . . No, that doesn't mean she's OK. It means she's dying."