BOCA RATON, Fla. - For 18 days in the fall of 2009, Christopher Sharpe lived with the decomposing body of girlfriend Pamela Powers in his one-bedroom Boca Raton home — using baby powder and an air freshener to mask the odor.
Sharpe testified Friday he had a mental breakdown after he strangled Powers to death in an act of self-defense, and then stabbed her lifeless body numerous times with a kitchen knife.
But a Palm Beach County jury on Wednesday convicted Sharpe, 52, of first-degree murder, after 5-1/2 hours of deliberation that capped a seven-day trial.
When the jury of eight women and four men left the courtroom, Circuit Judge Stephen Rapp immediately imposed a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"Certainly that's what you deserve," Rapp told Sharpe, who nodded that he understood the judge but otherwise showed no emotion upon hearing the verdict or sentence — 1,037 days after Boca Raton police arrested him.
The case will be appealed, said Tom Weiss, Sharpe's court-appointed attorney.
During the trial, the defense cited evidence indicating Powers, 46, died from the strangulation and not the stab wounds, at the residence in the 4700 block of Northeast Fifth Avenue.
"We argued this presented a forensic medical mystery," Weiss said of the defense arguments that challenged the findings of the medical examiner.
As a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office deputy handcuffed Sharpe for the trip back to Palm Beach County Jail, prosecutor Andrew Slater offered words of comfort to Powers' surviving sister, Brenda Joy Powers. A NATO computer system trainer who is based overseas, Powers took time off of work to represent the family at the trial.
"He should have been stopped a long time ago," Powers said of Sharpe, who was unemployed telemarketer at the time of the murder.
Starting in 1997, Sharpe's criminal career included nearly a dozen arrests, with charges including DUI, driving with a suspended license and marijuana possession.
Sharpe and Pamela Powers had been living together on and off for about a year and had a history of domestic violence, records show.
Less than four months before the murder, Boca Raton police charged Sharpe on numerous battery counts, including domestic battery by strangulation. Powers told officers then that while they argued, Sharpe began beating her in the head and mouth, punched her and "began whipping her with a horse whip."
Powers, a former real estate agent, lived in the first block of Southwest Third Avenue before her death. On Nov. 16, 2009, her roommate filed a missing person's report noting that Powers had not been seen the afternoon of Oct. 30.
On the night of Nov. 17, officers arrived at Sharpe's home with a search warrant and forceably entered when they got no answer.
They found Sharpe asleep on a couch in the living room, and Powers' naked body on the bedroom floor under bloody blankets, sheets and pillows, according to arrest records.
During the trial, Sharpe testified that Powers was drunk, had slipped pills into his drink, and came after him with the kitchen knife. He said he put her into a headlock to subdue her, but then realized she wasn't breathing.
But prosecutors argued Sharpe brutally stabbed Powers to death. The jury also listened to Sharpe's interview with Boca Raton detectives, during which he joked about kicking her at one point after she died and joking with her about getting out of housework.
Brenda Powers told the court she wants her sister's tragic story to serve as inspiration for women in similar circumstances to seek help.
"I hope this offers hope to all the women that are battered, that are abused," said Powers, who said she keeps her sister's cremated remains.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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