It will be at least 18 years before Brian Evert Ashcraft can be free again.
The 31-year-old Clarksburg man received maximum sentences to run consecutively Wednesday after being convicted in September of killing his ex-wife, Heather Ashcraft, and her friend, Bridgeport firefighter J.T. Honce, on June 5, 1999.
A jury found Ashcraft guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his ex-wife, but recommended mercy. Ashcraft was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Honce and was also found guilty of carrying an unregistered concealed weapon.
Harrison County Circuit Judge John Lewis Marks sentenced Ashcraft to life for the murder charge. With the mercy stipulation, Ashcraft can apply for parole in 15 years. Marks also sentenced him to the maximum 15 years for the manslaughter conviction. Ashcraft must serve at least 33Ú4 years of that term. Marks sentenced Ashcraft to 1 year in the county jail on the weapons charge, but credited him with time already served.
After handing down the toughest sentence he could, Marks explained his ruling to the court.
"There were two separate killings here," Marks said. "Two human lives have been lost. Mr. Ashcraft's actions resulted in the needless death of these two people.
"Mr. Ashcraft only has himself to blame. He should feel fortunate that the jury recommended mercy."
Marks also made reference to the Ashcrafts' 6-year-old daughter, who witnessed the shootings.
"God only knows the trauma and emotional scars she'll carry with her for the rest of her life," Marks said.
Family members of both the victims testified before Judge Marks during the sentencing hearing. They were glad Ashcraft got the maximum sentences.
"It's what he deserved," said Jody Honce, mother of J.T.
"I'm glad we won't have to come back (to the courthouse) for anything."
Honce, her husband, James, and son James Aaron, all read statements to Marks prior to sentencing. Heather Ashcraft's mother, Jeanie Aichele, joined them in asking the judge for the maximum sentences.
Ashcraft spoke on his own behalf during the hearing. He read a letter from his ex-wife to him, after which he apologized for the killings.
"It's too late," he said after reading the letter. "I've already done the worst thing that could ever be done. I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do to fix or repair what I've done."
Between 75 and 100 people crowded into the courtroom for the sentencing, which culminated one of the most scrutinized trials in the county for some time. The trial was moved from Harrison to Braxton County because of pre-trial publicity.
After the verdict, those closest to the case said they hoped it was time for the healing process to begin.
"I'm just happy that all the matters in the legal arena have come to a conclusion," defense attorney Thomas Dyer said. "From what I've heard and seen personally (the victim's families) are salt-of-the-earth-type people. I know they had a difficult time dealing with this tragedy and this may help enable them to further the healing process. I hope it does. They deserve some peace of mind."
Clarksburg Police Department Investigator Robert Matheny said he was glad to put the case behind him, but said, "There are no winners here."
"Everybody loses. The victims, their families, (Ashcraft) their child -- Nobody wins," Matheny said.
Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.