James M. Gray, the Calvert County carpenter who last month was convicted a second time of murdering his wife, maintained his innocence on Friday as a Charles County judge sentenced him to life in prison.
Gray, 42, said he would not show any remorse because he did not kill his wife, Bonnie, on Nov. 29, 1995, as authorities and two juries have now said he did. He dismissed prosecutors' assertions that his motive was to prevent his wife from obtaining a divorce settlement that would take away his 10 acres of land, a plot in Barstow where he often hunted.
"I loved her," Gray said. "Property is not a reason to kill anyone over. If Bonnie had wanted a divorce, I would have given her one. I never would have taken her away from her baby [their teenage daughter, Becky]."
Gray was convicted of first-degree murder last month after a three-week trial. He was also convicted in 1998, but the Maryland Court of Appeals ordered a new trial, faulting evidentiary rulings by Circuit Judge Christopher C. Henderson in the first trial.
In court on Friday, Henderson cited the gruesome facts of the case and said he wished he could sentence Gray to life without parole. Gray will have his first chance at parole in 15 years.
Henderson asserted the evidence showed James Gray beat his wife over the head, shot her three times in the head and stabbed her in the heart. Gray also cut off five of his wife's fingers and took off her rings, a fact Henderson said refuted a defense theory that a stranger killed Bonnie Gray, 45.
"People don't have to cut off fingers if they are a robber, or a mugger," Henderson said. "You are the ultimate poster boy for domestic violence."
Prosecutors had filed paperwork asking that Henderson sentence Gray to life without parole, but because Henderson had given a life sentence last time, he could not render a more severe sentence after this trial without new evidence.
Bonnie Gray's body was found on Dec. 6, 1995, stuffed in the trunk of her car, which had been left on a deserted gravel road near Hughesville. A 15-month investigation by the sheriff's offices in Charles and Calvert counties turned up no forensic evidence directly implicating James Gray.
Instead, the bulk of the prosecution's case lay in the combination of the Grays' crumbling marriage, a parade of friends who testified that James Gray implicated himself in the killing and a single witness who, the night Gray's wife went missing, saw Gray near the place where her body was later found.
The case also relied heavily on James Gray's motive: to keep his land -- what Henderson called a "hunting nirvana" -- from being seized in a divorce settlement, said Matthew R. Stiglitz, Charles County Assistant State's Attorney.
"This case has always been about a man and his castle," Stiglitz said. "Jimmy Gray had his castle . . . that was something he cared about more than his wife or his child."
Gray countered that he was the victim of a botched investigation that focused solely on him. Defense attorney Brian C. Denton has indicated Gray will again pursue an appeal, saying Henderson made an evidentiary mistake similar to that which led to the reversal of the first conviction: The judge did not allow the defense's alternative suspect in the killing to testify.
Henderson told Gray to think -- "every day you are in the Division of Correction" -- about how the killing affected his daughter, Becky, now 14 years old.
"And if you get out, tell someone where the rings are," Henderson said. "Give your daughter something tangible to remember her mother."