Timothy Virts, who was the target of a nationwide search last year after he killed his former girlfriend and fled to South Carolina with one of their daughters, was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors said Virts stabbed Bobbie Jo Cortez, 36, with a butcher knife in the Dundalk home where she lived with their three children and a female friend, and then took one of their daughters. After a roughly 36-hour police search, a motel owner in South Carolina alerted police after seeing a photo of Virts and his 11-year-old daughter in a news article posted on Facebook.
The case received widespread attention and inspired the social media site to launch its own Amber Alert notification system in January.
Virts, 39, pleaded guilty in March to first-degree murder. He agreed to a sentence of life without parole, and prosecutors dropped other charges against him, including assault, kidnapping and attempted sexual abuse.
Judge Michael Finifter called the facts of the case "chilling."
"The absurdity of the defendant claiming he was somehow acting in his daughters' best interests, when he killed their mother, is only eclipsed by the level of depravity exhibited by him during and following the commission of the crime," Finifter said.
Virts appeared in court in a wrinkled white button-down shirt, untucked from his khaki pants, his hands cuffed at his waist. When the judge asked him whether he wanted to speak at the sentencing, he replied, "No, I'm doing all right."
Dawn Cirigliano, who lived with Cortez and has taken custody of the couple's twin girls — now 12 — and their 14-year-old son, described how close she and Cortez were.
"That was my sister," she told the judge.
She called Cortez an "amazing mother." Even though Virts took Cortez away, she said, her memory will live on in her children, who still tell her they love her "day and night."
Cirigliano said she had known Virts since childhood, and knew him to be violent.
"I have nothing to say to him," Cirigliano told the judge.
She walked back to the bench and wrapped her arms around one of Virts' and Cortez's daughters and held her for several minutes.
The daughter did not speak during Friday's hearing. But at Virts' plea hearing in March, two of the children did address the court. They were not identified by name in court, but one described how she experienced nightmares of her father escaping from jail.
"I just really hate him," one of the children said. "Everyone hates him. ... He put a hole in my heart when I heard [my mother] was dead."
Prosecutors said Virts had been staying with Cortez and the couple were scheduled to attend a custody hearing on March 6, 2014, but they never made it. As Cortez napped in her bed, Virts stabbed her to death because he feared that he would lose the right to see his children, they said. The next day, prosecutors said, Virts fled with one of his daughters.
One of the couple's other children found her mother dead in a basement bedroom with her mouth covered in duct tape.
"I just can't even imagine what she had to go through," said Mindy Lopez, Cortez's stepsister, who spoke to reporters after the hearing. "She was tortured. Nobody deserves that."
Lopez expressed frustration that Virts did not address his family or express remorse.
"Your daughter is right there. You could have said 'Sorry.' You could have said something," Lopez said. "The frustrating part is that Bobbie Jo is not here. There's nothing we can do. Nothing is going to bring her back."
Lopez described the children as resilient.
"They're OK. They're strong. They're stronger than us," she said.
Virts' attorney, Mark Van Bavel, did not speak after the hearing, but said previously his client agreed to the plea to take responsibility and because of concessions the state made.
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Assistant State's Attorney Keith Pion called the killing "extremely violent," and said it hurt many people.
"You're happy when you get a result like this," Pion said. "You absolutely cannot help but feel for this family, these children."