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Man sent to prison in emotional sentencing 46 years after murder

PRICE — Heidi Jones-Asay stood in court Tuesday and delivered a damning message to the man whose brutal attack left her, at just 4 years old, to discover her mother dead in the living room of their Price home.

"I was in shock, terrified and all alone," Jones-Asay said, her voice trembling with emotion. "That day my life changed forever. I no longer had the one person in the world who would protect me and love me unconditionally: my mom."

After a seemingly eternal wait, Jones-Asay was able to see her mother's killer put behind bars Tuesday when Thomas Edward Egley, 76, was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. Egley pleaded guilty last month to murdering Loretta Jones, 23, on July 30, 1970.

"My hope for Tom Egley is for him to be sentenced to the rest of his life in prison. I hope that he will take his last and final breath behind prison bars all alone, not holding the hand of a loved one. … If Tom is ever eligible for parole, I will be at the parole hearing to make sure he never walks as a free man again," Jones-Asay said.

Court documents detail Egley raping Jones in her Price home, stabbing her numerous times and slitting her throat after she rejected his sexual advances.

Egley was arrested and charged soon afterward, but his case was thrown out following a preliminary hearing when a judge said there was not enough evidence to order him to stand trial. He moved to Rocky Ford, Colorado, the following year and has lived there ever since.

But the Carbon County Sheriff's Office, led by the efforts of Sgt. David Brewer, revived the case in 2009. After several years of piecing together people's memories from that time, police exhumed Jones' body earlier this year to examine forensic evidence.

By July, police were able to speak with Egley about the murder, at which point they said he admitted to stabbing Jones and slitting her throat. He was arrested and charged in August. A rape charge against him was dropped when he pleaded guilty to the murder in October.

Jones-Asay said Tuesday she believes her mother was looking out for her even as she was being violently attacked.

"My mom was my hero that terrible night. She never screamed nor made a sound. She did everything she had to to prevent me from coming out of my room," she said. "How does that make you feel, Tom Egley, knowing you left a 4-year-old little girl all alone in the next room to find her mother's bloody and lifeless body?"

Throughout her life, she said she struggled with the psychological ramifications of finding her mother dead.

"I never felt safe again, especially at night," she said. "I was afraid Tom would come back and kill me or another member of my family. … I continued to look over my shoulder for many years."

What Jones-Asay laments the most is missing out on special moments with her mother. "Tom Egley took my mom away from me," she said. "My mom was not there for any milestones in my life. I missed out on every mommy-daughter moment."

Egley didn't address the judge prior to sentencing, except to say he was not satisfied with being sentenced to the Utah State Prison in Bluffdale. He indicated he would like to be held in a facility closer to his home so that visitors would be able to see him more easily. But 7th District Judge George Harmond said such a decision would be made by corrections officials.

Defense attorney David Allred read a prepared statement from Egley in which he said was "terribly sorry with all my heart for taking (Jones-Asay's) mother away from her."

Jones-Asay credited Brewer, who she knew from high school, for energetically pursuing the cold case. Brewer told reporters he was happy to see the woman receive some closure.

"I had to pinch myself a little bit," Brewer said. "I choked up a little bit, especially during Heidi's statement (in court). It was pretty powerful."

Now that her lifelong longing for justice has been fulfilled, Jones-Asay said, it's time for her to reach out to others whose lives' have also been touched by tragedy.

"I'll keep my mother's memory alive," she said. "If somebody's hurting and somebody needs a little hope, I'm going to be there for whoever that may be. Maybe a little justice for Loretta Jones will help other people in other ways."

Contributing: Andrew Adams