JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two Louisiana inmates were sentenced to life in prison on Thursday in the kidnapping death of an Ohio businessman abducted from a hotel in Mississippi during a 2011 crime spree.
Darian Pierce and Ricky Wedgeworth both apologized to the family of David Cupps during the sentencing hearings in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Miss., as some of the victim's relatives wiped away tears.
Authorities say the inmates worked as groundskeepers at the Louisiana State Police compound in Baton Rouge, La., when they stole a van and drove away on March 4, 2011.
Cupps, a 53-year-old from Sunbury, Ohio, disappeared a few days later from a hotel in Vicksburg, Miss., where he was staying while in town to inspect the Grand Gulf nuclear plant.
His body was found in a field near a hotel in Bessemer, Ala. He had been beaten and strangled.
At the time of the escape, Wedgeworth was in prison for armed robbery and was set to be released in 2023. Pierce was locked up for attempted second-degree murder and was scheduled for release in 2024.
Wedgeworth was sentenced first on the kidnapping charge and several members of Cupps family spoke to the court or provided letters to be read during the hearing.
David Cupps relatives said he has had five grandchildren born since his death and that those kids were robbed of their chance to know him.
"They will never get to experience his love," David Cupps' sister-in-law, Diane Cupps, told the court. Cupps also had several other grandchildren who were born before his death.
Cupps was described as a loving father, grandfather, sibling and uncle. He liked working on cars, and Diane Cupps said she even misses "the click of his cowboy boots in the shop."
Cupps' daughter, Valerie Click, said in a letter read in court that she is married to a soldier and agonizes every time he goes out of town because she is haunted by the way her father was killed while away on a business trip.
She recalled going into a car parts store to buy brakes a few days after Cupps' death. Her father had been planning to change her brakes for her. When the clerk asked what kind of brakes she needed, Click instinctively called her father to ask him, then broke into tears at the realization that he couldn't answer.
She said the inmates imposed a life sentenced on her family and her 5-year-old son still asks about his grandfather.
"When I found out my Dad had been killed, it was like being stabbed in the heart," the letter said.
Wedgeworth, 38, who has a teardrop tattoo near his right eye, said he accepted responsibility and wanted a life sentence.
"I've been in prison a very long time and it's hardened my heart. I was raised with a good heart," Wedgeworth said.
Wedgeworth, who paused to take deep breaths and used the occasional expletive, told Cupps' family that a death sentence would have been preferable to life in prison, "if that helps you."
Prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty in the case.
Pierce, 35, who has the name "Drake" tattooed on the back of his neck and wore a short goatee, said a prayer and expressed hope that the family can forgive him someday.
"I just hope God blesses y'all's lives and gives y'all comfort," Pierce said.
He also said that he realizes the biggest question the family has is "why."
"The truth is, selfishness is the reason why. I was worried about what I wanted. I didn't care about anyone else," Pierce said.
Authorities said Cupps was abducted for his rental car, a red Buick Enclave. After dumping his body, the inmates drove to Georgia and then to Tennessee.
A Tennessee officer pulled the Buick over on March 8, 2011, but the inmates ran. They tied up a Madison County, Tenn., parks worker a few days later and stole a truck with markings for the county's parks department, authorities say.
Police in Olive Branch, Miss., spotted the men March 14, 2011, and pursued them back into Tennessee, where the inmates were arrested after wrecking in Memphis.
Authorities have said Wedgeworth is from Memphis, Tenn. Pierce is from Bogalusa, La.
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