A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge, saying the beating death of 8-year-old Destiny Souza was the most savage murder to come before her, sentenced Robert A. Miller yesterday to the maximum of life in prison.

Miller, 25, pleaded guilty in February to first-degree murder in the Sept. 17 slaying of the Fairfax girl. The body of the child, beaten with a jewelry box and stomped to death, was found by her mother at the bottom of the basement stairs in her home.

Circuit Court Judge Johanna Fitzpatrick said Miller had no reason to kill Destiny, and that made the murder "even more frightening."

Miller, who will be eligible for parole in 13 years, told the judge that he has been "trying to figure out why I did it." And, turning to look at Katie Souza, Destiny's mother, who was sitting in the courtroom, he said he was sorry.

"I just don't know the right words," Katie Souza said after the sentencing. "In a way I feel, yeah, the trial's over, the sentencing's done. But that means the chapter's over, the book is closed. And that means it's supposed to be forgotten. And I'm afraid that by the time he becomes eligible for parole they'll forget, and they won't keep him where he belongs."

Katie Souza hurried home last September when her daughter didn't call her at work as usual. It was Monday, when county schools close early, and Destiny always let her know she was safely home.

Souza, divorced from Destiny's father when the girl was an infant, found her daughter's body in the basement. Miller, who had recently lived for a time at the Souza home with his girlfriend, Destiny's aunt, confessed to police.

Courtroom spectators, including Destiny's principal from Newington Forest Elementary School, listened as Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. described the "almost unimaginable savagery" that had occurred in the basement.

"I see a lot of killings come and go, and I have never seen damage done to a child like what was done to this child," Horan said.

Destiny's body was broken from her head to her toes -- 11 distinctive injuries to her head alone, Horan said. It took the medical examiner three typed pages to list the injuries Miller had done, including stomping on Destiny's spine with both feet, he said.

Fitzpatrick received dozens of letters from Destiny's friends, urging a stiff sentence for Miller. Destiny's teacher sent the judge a poem she wrote called "The Empty Desk," which detailed the impact that the child's death has had on her classmates, who insist that Destiny's desk remain unoccupied. The 13-page poem, about an 8-year-old "dressed in navy blue, all grown up and stunning," was bound in a book and signed by the students.

At the time Miller entered his guilty plea, Katie Souza told of her feelings and how Destiny's death had caused her to fear the impending birth of her second child.

She had a son, Tyler, born March 1. She said she initially was unable to bond with Tyler. "I said, just get him away from me," Souza said. "I didn't want to hold him. I didn't want to have any feelings for him at all."

Slowly, Souza said, she has begun to care. "I love him and everything, but Dee will always be Number One in my life. That's a terrible thing to say, but she will always come first. She had all of me before; whatever's left of me, he {Tyler} can have. But there's nothing much left."