Gerald Montgomery was delivered to a standing room only audience packed into a Burlington courtroom Friday.
He was there to be sentenced for the kidnap, rape and murder of Laura Winterbottom, 31. They had never met until the night two years ago when Montgomery forced his way into Winterbottom's car just off the Burlington Church Street marketplace. Over the next three hours he raped her, beat her, and finally strangled her.
Prosecutors said it was a crime that deprived the community of a talent and innocent young woman and also shattered the city's sense of security.
"We began to question whether or not we were in fact safe on our streets and we realized that we were not immune from these types of crimes occurring, the types of crimes you see in larger cities, not in our community," said Mary Morrissey, Chittenden Deputy Prosecutor, as she explained the reasons for accepting a plea agreement for Montgomery to serve 43 years to life in prison.
Laura Winterbottom's parents addressed the court and explained that they had reluctantly accepted the plea deal to spare themselves the agony of reliving the cruel crime at trial.
"She was a child of my heart, next to my soul. Her death at 31 has left me with a loss not only of my second daughter, but the person that she was," said Ned Winterbottom.
"Vermont no longer has a death penalty, however even his death would give me little satisfaction," said JoAnn Winterbottom, who concluded her 15-minute statement looking directly at Montgomery.
"I hope that what you did to Laura will shame you and haunt you and torment you in a measure equal to the atrocities you inflicted upon her every single day for the rest of your life," she told Montgomery.
Montgomery apologized to he family and agreed prison will never be enough punishment.
"Vermont should have the death penalty. I think that's the only thing I have to give to the Winterbottom family. If I could take one moment and change everything, that would be giving my life for hers," he told Judge Michael Kupersmith.
Kupersmith imposed the sentence of 43 years to life and told Montgomery, "You are unfit to live among civilized people."
"Mr. Montgomery you have committed, I think, the most horrendous crime that I can think of. One, frankly, for which-- to echo the Winterbottoms words-- there is no punishment that's great enough," said the judge.
Under the plea agreement, Montgomery will not be eligible for parole until he is 76, but it is unlikely he will ever be released.
The Winterbottoms declined comment after the hearing, but they released a press statement explaining that they have established a foundation in their daughter's memory. They say the Laura Kate Winterbottom Foundation will seek donations to fund organizations dedicated to promote the arts, education, and the environment, the interests that were most important to their daughter.
For now, Montgomery is jailed in a Vermont prison, but officials say it is almost certain he will serve his sentence out-of-state.
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