In spite of a last-ditch defense suggesting Steven Ray James accidentally killed his baby, a judge sentenced James Wednesday to spend the rest of his natural life in prison for murdering his three-month-old son.

Although James took the witness stand during the murder trial and repeatedly denied killing his son, defense attorney Robert Gutke Wednesday asked Third District Judge Pat Brian to dismiss the jury's guilty verdict based on a new defense. Gutke argued it is possible that the person who killed the infant didn't intend to kill the child, but then "panicked and didn't know how to explain the baby's death to the mother."Gutke contended there was no direct evidence showing the intent to kill.

The judge, however, said he was of the "unequivocal" opinion that the jury reached the proper verdict and James did not qualify for a lesser sentence.

Reacting to the sentence, James, who sat handcuffed in the courtroom, talked quietly with his parents and then was escorted to the Utah State Prison. James's father told reporters he didn't expect such a severe sentence. He said his son will appeal the verdict.

It took a 12-member jury only 3 1/2 hours Friday to find James guilty of killing his baby, throwing the body - bundled and weighted with rocks - in a river, and then making up a story about the child being kidnapped. James reported his son missing Aug. 26, 1986. The baby's badly decomposed body was discovered Oct. 11, 1986 in a marsh near Bear River.

During the seven-day trial, prosecutors presented evidence showing that James murdered his son because he was jealous of the attention his girlfriend, Victoria DeLeon, paid her first-born.

Following the sentencing, prosecutor James Jenkins explained why the state did not seek the death penalty in the capital homicide case.

"The likelihood of receiving a death penalty was not good - even given James' lengthy criminal record," said Jenkins.

For homicide to warrant the death penalty, it must involve an element of aggravation. In the James case, the aggravating circumstance occurred 15 years ago in California. James pleaded guilty to a lesser charge related to kidnapping a woman at gunpoint and served time in a California prison. Because the case was old and took place outside Utah, Jenkins believes a death penalty sentence would have been overturned in a higher court.

Prosecutors also considered the time and money savings of asking for a life sentence instead of going through the prolonged death-penalty appellate process.

Calling the murder of his own son a heinous crime, Jenkins said, "James deserves to be locked up for life." The prosecutor expects James will not be eligible for parole for an "awfully long time."

Initially, prosecutors would have considered filing a reduced homicide charge - if James had been able to present evidence showing the baby's death was an accident, said Jenkins. "There were no eye witnesses to the exact means of death."

However, James "stuck to the same story of a phantom kidnapper," adamantly denying any responsibility. Even if James had admitted on the witness stand during the trial that he accidentally killed his son in a moment of anger, the jury may have returned a lesser verdict, Jenkins speculated.

Criticizing the extensive pre-trial media coverage, Jenkins said the case has cost Cache County hundreds of thousands of dollars because it had to be moved from Logan to Salt Lake City.

Two years ago, when James reported his child was kidnapped from his car while he shopped at a Logan drug store, the community became involved in an intense search for the child - led by James. The community was deeply affected by the James case.

"The residents of Logan now feel a sense of relief that the death of a child has been resolved," said Jenkins.