SAN DIEGO — It sounds like something out of a movie: Teenage lovers break up and drift apart, only to reunite three decades later, fall in love again, and get married.
But the end of the late-in-life romance between Robert and Shirley McGill turned out to be something from a horror film.
Shirley McGill was beaten and strangled to death on the bathroom floor of a cruise ship cabin at the hands of her husband.
On Thursday, Robert McGill was sentenced to life in prison by U.S. District Judge Irma Gonzalez, who acknowledged that McGill had led a life dedicated to helping at-risk teens but had to be punished for the murder for which precise motives remain unknown.
Shirley McGill's children from a previous marriage and her elderly parents gasped in relief when the judge announced the sentence. They had pleaded with Gonzalez to impose the maximum sentence.
Robert McGill, 57, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in July, and his lawyers were seeking a sentence of slightly more than 11 years in prison. They cited his lifelong work as a dedicated teacher and that he was extremely intoxicated when he beat his wife, so much so that he has no clear memory of what provoked him or what happened.
Shirley McGill, 55, was killed on July 14, 2009, aboard the Carnival cruise ship Elation. The couple was on a five-day cruise to Mexico, and it was the husband's 55th birthday. He drank heavily in Cabo that day before re-boarding the ship for the trip home.
How much he had is not known, but witnesses said he could barely walk when he returned to the ship. In court documents, his lawyers said that he had at least 20 drinks, including beer, hard liquor and mescal.
Later that night, he pummeled his wife inside the cabin, then strangled her. Afterward, he changed clothes and went up to a deck, smoked a cigar and had more beer with another couple. When they asked about his wife, he told them he had killed her, according to court records.
Robert McGill was arrested when the ship docked in San Diego.
The couple had been high school sweethearts and then broke up. Some 30 years later, they reconnected at a high school reunion, got married and by all accounts were happy together.
In court, former colleagues of Robert McGill spoke of his talent and dedication as a teacher, and said they were baffled by what he had done.
Shirley McGill's children sounded a different note. Son Noel Salazar said that whatever McGill had accomplished it could not outweigh the killing, which has devastated the family.
Robert McGill spoke briefly, saying he was remorseful. "I really don't have the words to make anyone feel better," said McGill. "I know I've done a horrible thing."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Forge said the brutal death of Shirley McGill overshadowed her husband's career.
"Whatever decency Mr. McGill had, he left on the floor of that bathroom next to Shirley's beaten, bleeding and broken body," Forge said.
The judge agreed. She noted Shirley McGill likely did not die right away, and said the actions of Robert McGill after the beating showed he had some awareness of what he was doing and was not completely out of it from his excessive drinking.