VIRGINIA BEACH — A sailor who killed his roommate, then took her body to Massachusetts and burned it on a charcoal pyre, was sentenced yesterday to life in prison for first-degree murder.
“This was totally senseless. It was brutal,” Virginia Beach Circuit Judge A. Bonwill Shockley said in sentencing Jarred D. Swartzmiller, 22.
Before he was sentenced, Swartzmiller said he wished he could alleviate “all the pain” Laura Skinner’s family has suffered. Swartzmiller frequently wept and held his head in his hands as Mrs. Skinner’s family members testified during the sentencing hearing.
Swartz-miller, who pleaded guilty in early May, had been held without bail in a Virginia Beach jail. Public defender Peter Legler said he expected Swartzmiller to be sent to a maximum-security prison.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Harvey Bryant had asked that Swartzmiller be given life in prison, the maximum sentence, because his future behavior is unpredictable.
“There are turbulent currents running through his heart and mind,” Mr. Bryant said.
Referring to a letter Swartzmiller wrote to a shipmate after the slaying, Mr. Bryant said the sailor fatally beat Mrs. Skinner, 21, because “she called him a retard.”
Mr. Legler noted that Swartzmiller had been an honor student in high school and quickly advanced through the ranks as a Navy enlisted man.
“Two lives have been wasted,” Mr. Legler said.
Thirteen members of Mrs. Skinner’s family came from Florida and North Carolina for the hearing. Her mother, Valerie Philon, read a statement expressing the loss she felt.
“I will never again fluff her hair and her pillow and her covers when I kiss her good night,” Mrs. Philon said.
Authorities conducted a nationwide search for Swartzmiller after Mrs. Skinner’s partially charred body was found May 19, 2004, in rural Hatfield, Mass. Swartzmiller surrendered the following day in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
Mrs. Skinner and Swartzmiller had been declared missing May 17 after authorities discovered a blood-splattered crime scene in the apartment they shared with a third sailor.
At a preliminary hearing in September, a friend testified that Swartzmiller told him he was in a daze from alcohol and a prescription painkiller when he wrapped a belt around his hand and hit Mrs. Skinner in the head with the buckle.
Authorities said Swartzmiller battered Mrs. Skinner during an argument, then tried to hide the crime by driving her body out of state, wrapping it in a sleeping bag and burning it. Police Detective Sean R. Coerse testified in September that he found a receipt in Swartzmiller’s truck showing that the defendant bought charcoal and lighter fluid at a Wal-Mart in Norfolk the day Mrs. Skinner was killed.
Mr. Bryant said prosecutors had not determined the motive for the slaying, but Swartzmiller hinted at his reasons in a letter that he wrote to shipmate Rob Lang before he was arrested.
“I took a wife from a man, I took a mother’s daughter. I took a woman’s sister and a child’s aunt,” he wrote. “For what. Jealousy. Disrespect.”
Mrs. Skinner, Swartzmiller and their roommate, Paula Burd, were shipmates on the Norfolk-based aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Mrs. Skinner had married another sailor four days before she was slain.