CHARLESTON — Joshua Mefford claimed remorse Tuesday for the death of Robert Montague, but a judge said it appeared to be “more for himself.”
Mefford continued to show a “callousness” about beating the other man to death at a Mattoon motel, Circuit Judge Mitchell Shick said.
Shick then sentenced Mefford to a total of 41 years in prison for his conviction for first-degree murder and robbery. He said he saw “two Josh Meffords,” including one who said he was sorry and had the support of his family, but he was “not really sure he could mesh” that with Mefford’s other side, the judge said.
“I’ve tried to see it,” Shick said of Mefford’s claims of remorse. “I’ve tried to understand it. The problem is, the facts don’t support it.”
A jury found Mefford, 25, guilty of the charges last month, concluding he beat the 53-year-old Montague at the US Grant motel, 1313 Lake Lake Blvd., Mattoon, on the night of Sept. 8, causing Montague to die from his injuries the following day. The robbery charge accused Mefford of taking a motel bank bag with money that Montague had because he did work for the motel, where he lived.
On Tuesday, Shick imposed a 36-year sentence for the murder conviction and five years in prison for the robbery, as the sentences for the two offenses had to be added together. Mefford faced a possible maximum of 67 years.
Mefford apologized to Montague’s family during a statement to Shick on Tuesday and called himself a “complete failure,” mostly because of his alcohol addiction.
“I accept full responsibility but please believe me that I never intended for that to happen,” Mefford said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that if I had not been such a drunk over the years I would not have gotten into such trouble.”
However, Shick noted how Mefford has referred to himself as a “victim of circumstances” since his conviction. That was one of the statements to that effect Mefford made during an interview with a probation officer who conducted a presentence investigation on him and his background, Shick said.
The judge also said he considered that once Mefford admitted to police that he hit Montague, he continued to claim it was only once. The skull fractures and extent of Montague’s other injuries showed that wasn’t true, Shick said.
There was also trial evidence that Mefford use the money he stole to pay for drinks at the Castle Inn tavern, located next to the US Grant, Shick added.
“After brutally beating Mr. Montague, he took the money and went to drink with it,” he said. “There was no remorse at the bar.”
And though Mefford claimed he got a tattoo on his hand depicting the date of Montague’s death because it was the day he found religion, Shick said he doubted that account also.
Shick also heard a statement from Peggy Montague, Montague’s sister, who called Mefford a “selfish, arrogant person” who deserved the maximum sentence possible.
“We fear for others who could come into contact with his self-righteous attitude,” she said.
State’s Attorney Brian Bower recommended a total of 42 years — 35 for the murder conviction and the maximum of seven years for the robbery. Instead of being remorseful, Mefford actually displayed “bravado” by stating he did society a favor by killing Montague, which the trial evidence indicated, Bower said.
“It’s avoidance of any responsibility, it’s remorse for him and not for the havoc he inflicted on Robert Montague,” Bower said.
Public Defender Lonnie Lutz said Mefford deserved the minimum 20-year sentence for the murder conviction. He said Mefford still has potential and would have “some time left in his life.”
“I believe Mr. Mefford’s remorse,” Lutz said. “I think he does accept responsibility. He never denied it. He knows his actions caused the death of a friend of his.”
Shick noted that Mefford said he and Montague had been friends for years. But he also said the younger, larger, healthier Mefford “attacked someone half his size or less in such a vicious manner.”
At the end of Tuesday’s hearing, Shick granted Mefford’s request for a court-appointed attorney to handle an appeal. State law requires that Mefford serve the entire 36 years for the murder conviction and at least half the sentence for the robbery offense before parole eligibility.
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