A judge sentenced 25-year-old Robert Walters to life in prison without parole today for the murder of his former girlfriend, Brittney Brashers. Though the sentence was mandatory, Judge Anne Mansfield also called it "fitting" after listening to heart rending statements from Brashers's sister and brother.
"Please be patient," her sister Sara said, her voice wavering. "I never thought in a million years that I'd be here today."
Walters was convicted last month of beating Brashers to death in November 2009 and then faking a car accident to cover up the murder. As detailed in the Westword feature, "Dead End," the two met while serving in the Air Force in Iraq. They continued their relationship when they returned stateside, despite the fact that Walters had married his longtime girlfriend, Elena, shortly before he deployed.
Elena Walters became a key witness in the case against Walters. She testified that in the days following Brashers's death in Colorado, Walters returned home to California and confessed to her. He also warned her that she'd be next if she told the police.
Brashers's friends and family crowded one side of the courtroom today, while Walters's family occupied a single bench on the other. Though state law mandates that those convicted of first-degree murder be sentenced to life without parole, Brashers's loved ones wanted a chance to tell the judge how devastating her death had been.
Brashers's older sister Sara spoke first. She told the court how different she and her younger sister were; while she was sensitive and emotional, Brittney was strong and "lived life with no regrets." What they had in common was their family; their mom and dad raised them to be respectful of others and taught them right from wrong. Their household was full of love, Sara said, and their parents never missed a single dance recital or track meet.
Though their mother died when Brittney was seventeen, Sara said she knows she would have been proud of her daughter for serving her country. Their father, Barry, was proud too, Sara said. (Barry, who attended every day of the weeks-long trial, stood behind Sara as she spoke.) When Brittney graduated from basic training, the whole family traveled to Texas to see her. "I'll never forget seeing my strong sister standing at attention with tears streaming down her face as my dad approached her," Sara said.
Sara also spoke about the things Brittney has missed: Sara's wedding, the birth of her first nephew and the chance to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, which was a dream of hers.
Instead, the family has now had to bury two of its members. "My beautiful sister was beaten so badly in the face that my dad couldn't even leave the coffin open at the funeral," Sara said. If it weren't for Brittney's uniform and name badge, Sara said she wouldn't have recognized her.
Sara finished by asking that Walters "never see freedom." She said she's sure that if he's released from prison, he'll murder again. At that comment, Walters's mother, who seemed to be holding back tears herself, shook her head.
Brashers's younger brother John spoke next. He also attended the trial and came prepared today with a slideshow of photos of his sister. As he spoke, the photos -- Brittney at prom, Brittney chasing him with a can of silly string, Brittney and her mom smiling -- scrolled on a flat screen TV that was tilted to face Walters.
Brittney was a free spirit who loved to have fun and didn't care about being popular, he said. She styled his hair in spikes, gave him advice about girls and dragged him into a photo booth at the mall to take photos before she left for basic training. When he visited her at graduation, she pressured him into doing the Buffalo Wild Wings Blazin' Challenge -- twelve of their hottest wings in six minutes -- "which was not smart," he said.
"Thanks to that man over there, this is all I have left," John said, referring to the photos.
"After he murdered her, I called Britt four or five times just to her her voice," he added. "Now all I have left are memories."
The last to speak was Master Sergeant Arthur Figeroa, Brashers's boss in the dental clinic at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs where she worked. In a trembling voice, he said Walters was "selfish.
"When he didn't get what he wanted, he took Brittney," he said. "That ripped a hole in our family... Our lab, our clinic, our base has never been the same."
Figeroa testified at trial that he knew Walters and Brashers had had previous domestic disputes, some of them violent. He had even issued an order forbidding Brashers from seeing him. The night she died, she disobeyed it. "Maybe she thought she could spend one more night with him and then move on with her life," Figeroa said.
Walters declined to speak at the hearing. His public defender, Fernando Freyre, made a brief statement. "He maintains his innocence," he said. Freyre also said Walters "understands the sentence the court has to impose."
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Chief Deputy District Attorney Helen Morgan, who served as the lead prosecutor on the case, was also brief. In this instance, she said, "the punishment fits the crime."
Walters didn't visibly react when Mansfield handed down the sentence of life without parole. Dressed in a prison jumpsuit and handcuffs, he rose afterward and allowed himself to be escorted out of the courtroom with barely a glance at his family, who leaned forward in their seats toward him. His father gave the thumbs-up sign.
More from our Colorado Crimes archives: "Robert Walters trial: Best friend of victim Brittney Brashers testifies about night she died."