A St. Clair County judge on Thursday sentenced Lortez D. Thomas of Washington Park to 60 years in prison for the murder of a New Baden man.
St. Clair County Circuit Judge Jan Fiss called the murder "cold-blooded" and "despicable."
Thomas, 35, faced a minimum sentence of 45 years in prison and maintained his innocence during a sentencing hearing.
A jury in May found Thomas guilty of shooting Eric Mollet in the head and hiding the body in a vacant house that was set on fire. Jurors decided Thomas was not guilty of raping two female witnesses.
The charred remains of Mollet's body was found Nov. 16, 2008, in a burned house in the 1800 block of North 60th Street in Washington Park.
Thomas, shackled and wearing the orange jumpsuit worn by inmates at the St. Clair County Jail, spoke directly to the family members of Mollet attending the hearing.
"My condolences Miss Lady, but the guy, the people who did this are out those doors...," Thomas told members of Mollet's family. "I pour my heart out to you and your family. I didn't do this."
Thomas' family members wept during the hearing as he spoke and when the judge announced the sentence.
Mollet's sister, Cheryl Haar, said her brother was a wonderful father with two kids and described his murder as a "senseless, merciless act."
"When you murdered my brother, you destroyed not just one life, but many," Haar told Thomas. "Why couldn't you not stop at beating him and had to kill him? Why could you not stop executing him?"
Marsha Morris, Thomas' aunt, raised him from the age of 10 and testified she did not believe he was guilty.
"In my heart, I feel Lortez didn't do this because I didn't raise him like this. I hope they find who killed Mr. Mollet," Morris said.
Mollet's attorney, Erin Conner, sought leniency because Thomas is intellectually disabled with the cognitive abilities of an 8-year-old.
"What happened to Mr. Mollet should not happen to anyone, but given his (Thomas') disability and the environment he grew up, he didn't stand much of a chance," Conner said.
Prosecutor Steve Sallerson sought 70 years in prison, telling the judge Thomas "does not need to see the streets ever again. He needs to be in prison where he belongs."
"I can't think of anything more egregious than the conduct of this defendant that night," Sallerson said.
During the trial, witnesses testified that Thomas and Justin Skinner brought Mollet, Jason Cowley and two women who worked as exotic dancers at Dolly's Showclub back to Thomas' house.
A fight ensued between Mollet, 47, of New Baden, and Thomas, Skinner and Cowley, witnesses said. The fight ended when Thomas shot Mollet in the head, Skinner and the female witness said. The two other men dragged the body to the vacant house at 1833 N. 60th St. -- across the street from Thomas' home -- and set it on fire.
After the murder, both women testified, Thomas forced the women to perform sexual acts.
Thomas made statements to investigators that he shot Mollet, but claimed it was in self-defense. Those statements were not allowed during the trial because a judge found he did not knowingly waive his Miranda rights.