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A man accused of killing a former Baltimore police commissioner's stepdaughter was found guilty of assault Tuesday and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Joseph Antonio Bonds, 36, entered an Alford plea, which allows him to maintain innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors likely had enough evidence to gain an assault conviction. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, with all but eight years suspended. If convicted of murder, he could have been sentenced to life in prison.

"I'm fighting for my life here," Bonds told Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory.

"It's a great gamble to try a case like this," Doory said.

Nicole Desiree Sesker was found dead under a backyard deck in the 3500 block of W. Garrison Ave. on June 27, 2008, a day after her 39th birthday. An autopsy showed that she had been strangled and beaten.

Sesker was the stepdaughter of Leonard D. Hamm, who had resigned as Baltimore police commissioner a year earlier. His relationship with Sesker, a heroin addict and prostitute, had been chronicled in a New York Times article.

Bonds and Sesker were acquaintances, and a witness placed them together the night before Sesker's body was found, Assistant State's Attorney Lisa Goldberg told the court. The witness said Bonds and Sesker had argued over drugs. Bonds' DNA was found under Sesker's fingernails.

But witnesses said they saw Sesker alive after the argument.

Goldberg said the plea deal was "appropriate, given the facts and circumstances."

On Monday, Bonds had rejected a similar deal that carried more jail time. He accepted this offer after talking with his family.

Bonds "was understandably concerned about the potential penalties" if convicted of murder, said his attorney, Assistant Public Defender James A. Johnston.

Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said officers are sure they charged the right man. "The killer has been put behind bars," he said.

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