Family and friends of Amanda Rose Garcia wept openly in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court Monday as Justin Cade VanCleave, 20, was sentenced for her brutal slaying.
Judge Vernice Trease sentenced VanCleave to 15 years to life for the May 23, 2016, first-degree felony murder of the 33-year-old woman, who was strangled and stabbed more than 40 times.
The judge said VanCleave will not get credit for the past 608 days that he has been incarcerated at the Salt Lake County Jail.
VanCleave had lived near 7200 West and 3000 South in West Valley City with Garcia, her boyfriend — who is Justin VanCleave’s older brother — two other brothers and their mother.
VanCleave and Garcia where the only ones at home when he killed her in the bathroom with a kitchen knife, according to courtroom testimony.
“This case stands out because of the extreme brutality,” said prosecutor Langdon Fisher. “It was an extreme and lengthy assault.”
During Monday’s sentencing hearing, Pamela Jones, a close friend of Garcia’s, told VanCleave he was a “monster” who should be locked away for life.
“It’s hard for us to face the brutal way Amanda was taken. The hurt and pain will never go away,” Jones said. “Her three children will never again hear their mother say how much she loves them.”
VanCleave had joked about killing Garcia for more than a year before her body was found in the family’s backyard shed, according to testimony by acquaintances during a 2016 evidence hearing.
Witnesses at the hearing said VanCleave offered inconsistent and unclear motives for the attack.
A friend testified that VanCleave told him he killed her because Garcia was “talking bad about his mom and his brother,”
But VanCleave initially told police that Garcia was getting ready to shower when an argument broke out and she advanced on him with a knife, cutting his pinky finger, a police detective testified.
On Monday, weeping uncontrollably, Garcia’s mother, Jolene Winters, told the judge she can’t sleep or close her eyes without the horror of her daughter’s murder flooding into her mind.
“I pray before I go to sleep that I can hear her voice and tell her one last time I love her,” Winters said. “The pain is always there. Nothing will ever take away the anguish and the loss we feel.”
Before sentencing, defense attorney Heidi Buchi told the judge that VanCleave was on methamphetamines and hadn’t slept for five days and was not thinking clearly when he killed his brother’s girlfriend.
Buchi also explained that VanCleave had been mistreated by his father, who had introduced him to alcohol at age of 5.
“I am not a monster,” VanCleave told the court. “What I did was wrong. I do deserve punishment. But I deserve to be with my friends and family one day.”
Charged with first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony obstructing justice, VanCleave pleaded guilty to the the murder count in August, and the obstructing charge was dismissed.