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Stephen Vargas has been sentenced to five years to life in prison for the bludgeoning death of his wife, Rebecca, a year ago.

Second District Judge Michael Lyon handed down the term Thursday after hearing a tearful plea from the victim's mother, Sonja Sanders, for imposition of the maximum possible penalty."Steve, Rebecca lived in your prison for nine years before she died," Sanders told the defendant. "I am here to speak for Rebecca, and for Rebecca, I petition the court to give you the maximum penalty that you can get - for Rebecca's sentence with you was the death penalty."

Vargas' conviction on murder, in contrast to aggravated murder, did not provide the death penalty as an option. However, Lyon said he would write the parole board with the recommendation Vargas never be paroled.

Vargas has steadfastly maintained his innocence. But after listening to two weeks of testimony, a jury took just four hours Nov. 14 to find the 41-year-old man guilty.

Rebecca Vargas, 27, was found dead outside her apartment Dec. 27, 1995. Prosecutors said Vargas was angry with her for leaving him.

"This is a tragic case in which the children have lost both parents," Lyon said. "It was a monstrous act to kill the mother of your two children. It was not a crime of passion."

Several witnesses testified that Vargas said numerous times he would kill his wife rather than let her leave him again. The couple divorced in 1993 and had remarried in 1994.

Prosecutor Gary Heward, who played basketball with Vargas at a local gym, testified Vargas had told him after the O.J. Simpson trial that if a black man could get away with killing his wife, a Mexican could.

Prosecutors said Vargas, who is Hispanic, killed his wife two months later.

Vargas shook his head briefly in denial when Lyon rebuked him for killing his wife but otherwise displayed no emotion.