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Judge sentences man to life in quadruple slaying

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BESSEMER, Ala. — A man with a history of mental problems was sentenced to life without parole Wednesday for the 2009 stabbing deaths of his ex-girlfriend and three others as a judge rejected pleas by some of the victims' relatives for a death sentence.

Circuit Judge Mac Parsons followed the unanimous recommendation of jurors in sentencing Scott Lamar Abbott, 26, to life imprisonment.

Addressing a courtroom full of the victims' relatives and friends, Abbott apologized for what he had done.

"It was truly an act of rage," said Abbott, handcuffed and wearing leg shackles.

Abbott was convicted in October of capital murder in the March 2009 stabbing deaths of former girlfriend Jeri Lynn Cole, 27, and three other people at a house in the Birmingham suburb of Hueytown. Evidence showed Abbott had a long history of mental problems, but jurors rejected defense claims that he was mentally ill and not responsible for his actions.

Prosecutors said Abbott went to the home to kill Cole after she broke up with him, and he also killed Josh Gilleo, 26; Nika Sandlin, 24; and Chad Gilbert, 31.

Before sentencing, about 20 people attended a rally outside the courthouse calling for the death penalty. Pam Gilbert, Gilbert's mother, carried a sign reading "Death Penalty for Abbott," and her boyfriend collected petitions with more than 4,000 signatures seeking the death penalty.

"I have no compassion for him. He had no compassion for my son," said Gilbert.

Authorities said Abbott entered the house before dawn and killed one by one, stabbing his victims repeatedly and slashing the throats of some. He had shared the house with Cole, Gilbert and Sandlin for a time.

Abbott was arrested after showing up for treatment of cuts at a hospital in his hometown of Gadsden, about 75 miles from Hueytown.

Parsons heard from some of the victims' relatives, several of whom addressed Abbott from across the courtroom. Mark Sandlin, Nika's father, told Abbott: "I'll see you in hell."

"With what you did to these kids I hope someone skins you," he said.

But Sharon Higgins, Cole's mother, said she hoped "God has mercy on (Abbott's) soul."

"As a Christian, I have to forgive Scott," she said.

Abbott told the courtroom he has become a Christian and prays nightly for the victims' families.

"I am truly sorry for the losses y'all have experienced," he said. Abbott briefly described his relationship with each of the dead, saying he loved Cole and didn't mean to kill any of them.

Evidence showed the victims were stabbed more than 90 times in all. Cole suffered 25 knife wounds.

Under Alabama law, jurors recommend a sentence of either life or death in capital cases, but the final decision is up to the judge. Prosecutor Lane Tolbert did not ask Parsons to override the jury's unanimous recommendation for life, citing division among the families over whether he should be put to death.

"(But) if there is a case that would require it, this one would," Tolbert said.

Mental health experts testified during the trial that Abbott reported being abused as a child and was in and out of psychiatric care for years starting at age 5, threatening or attempting to kill himself several times. He was placed under special care in the jail and given anti-psychotic medication last year after cutting himself with pieces from a broken light fixture.

The 6-foot-6 Abbott, who served in the Navy before being discharged for mental problems in 2006, worked for a time as a male stripper in his native Etowah County, Tolbert said outside court. He was charged with attempted murder after allegedly attacking a deputy in the jail the day after the guilty verdict, and those charges remain pending.