Published 6:26 pm Monday, June 24, 2013

James Christian walks to the Pike County Jail after a sentencing hearing in Troy, Ala., Monday, June 24, 2013. Christian was sentenced to life in prison without parole for robbery second degree.  (Photo/Thomas Graning)

James Christian walks to the Pike County Jail after a sentencing hearing in Troy, Ala., Monday, June 24, 2013. Christian was sentenced to life in prison without parole for robbery second degree. (Photo/Thomas Graning)

The lead suspect in the 2011 abduction and assault of a Troy University student has been sentenced to life without parole for a different crime.

James Christian, 38, was sentenced Monday after he earlier pleaded guilty to the June 2011 robbery of Pete’s Package Store on Three Notch Street in Troy. During that robbery, Christian hit two female clerks with a liquor bottle and held a box cutter as he demanded money from the cash register, according to the clerks’ testimony at the sentencing hearing Monday afternoon.

As he was delivering Christian’s sentence, Judge Thomas Head told Christian that he was taking into consideration his nine prior felonies, three of which were robberies. Head noted that for his last conviction, Christian was sentenced to life in prison for robbing the Beeline on Three Notch Street and served only about 10 years.

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“I don’t think you’re fixable,” Head said to Christian. “I can’t fix you. I can’t make you a whole person who won’t go out and hurt other people. All I can do is protect other people from you.”

Although Head assured Christian it had no effect on his sentence, the District Attorney’s Office provided evidence at Monday’s hearing, showing that Christian was the main suspect in the abduction and assault of a Troy University student from her home on Smith Street on Jan. 10, 2011.

According to court testimony Monday, the victim told police she heard a knock on the door and opened it, with a chain still latched. A black male asked her for money and when she attempted to shut the door, he stuck his foot in the doorway and grabbed her wrist, forcing his way in and breaking the chain. He threatened the student with a knife and had her drive out to the Needmore community where he assaulted her and left her for dead.

During testimony, Sgt. Brian McLendon, who was the lead detective in the abduction case, said he once showed Christian the knife used to stab the university student at least 20 times, cut her wrists, and cut her throat.

“He said, ‘That’s my knife,’” McLendon recalled.

Christian told McLendon that he gave the knife to his cousin. However, when interviewed at the Covington County jail, the cousin told police Christian was the one who committed crimes with a knife and had even bragged to him that, “He slaughtered a [expletive] from the university.” Christian’s cousin also passed a polygraph test that asked questions related to the statement he shared to police and any involvement he had in the crime.

A DNA sample was collected from Christian during a domestic dispute and sent to the Department of Forensic Science in Montgomery, along with a voluntary sample his cousin gave. The cousin was ruled out, but Christian was not. DFS said there was not a large enough DNA sample from the knife to conclusively say Christian’s DNA matched, but Christian’s DNA did fit the same profile.

McLendon testified that the kidnapping victim identified a voice recording of Christian taken during an interview for the Pete’s Package Store robbery as the man who attacked her. She also placed a question mark by his photo, along with three others, in a photo line-up provided by police.

When asked why Christian was never charged in the crime, McLendon said, “Ms. [victim] said she has forgiven him and said she did not want to relive that part of her life, again.”

The victim’s mother shared with The Messenger that her family had been told the maximum sentence Christian could receive for the crimes against her daughter was life in prison. Since the state was asking for life without parole for the Pete’s Package Store robbery, the family decided not to move forward with proceedings that would force her daughter to relive her horrific night in court. However, the victim’s mother did say that if Christian had not been given a sentence of life without parole, they would have pushed for him to be arrested for the abduction and assault of her daughter.

Christian’s defense attorney, Randy Arnold, reserved the right for his client to appeal the judge’s sentence, noting in his closing statements that he didn’t feel Christian deserved to die in prison. Arnold contended that Christian’s criminal past was sparked by the use of drugs, which began when he was only 10 years old.

After court proceedings, Assistant District Attorney Jon Folmar said the sentence that Head handed down was important because Christian had a history of robberies and violence.

“He is one of these criminals where you are perplexed as to why he has had so many chances,” Folmar said.

Folmar also noted, that even though the abduction and assault victim didn’t press charges, presenting evidence in court that Christian was a suspect was important for closure.

“We felt like it was so important and so compelling to get her story out as a victim,” Folmar said.

Although he doesn’t think it is likely, Folmar said that after some time in prison, a judge could reconsider the life without possibility of parole sentence, but the state would fight any move to offer parole.

Arnold declined to comment.