SANTA ANA (CNS) - A 44-year-old man was sentenced Friday to 16 years to life in prison for strangling and stabbing his girlfriend to death with a screwdriver in their Santa Ana apartment nearly five years ago.
Prentis John Hill was convicted Oct. 12 of second-degree murder with a sentencing enhancement for the personal use of a deadly weapon. He was given credit for 2,044 days in custody awaiting trial.
Hill was convicted of killing 38-year-old Shannon Pearce Likens on Dec. 16, 2017, in their one-room apartment at 316 W. Fourth St.
Likens, a divorced mother of three children, had met Hill while they were patients at College Hospital Costa Mesa, said Senior Deputy District Attorney Mark Birney. They both had a history of mental health issues, he added.
The prosecutor showed jurors surveillance video photos of the couple walking to a shared bathroom in the mixed-use residential-retail building where they used a shared kitchen and restroom.
About 11:30 a.m. that day, their neighbors, Brandy Fajardo, and her 18- year-old son, Dylan, heard the two arguing through the "paper-thin walls," Birney said. Then they heard "repeated hard blows," and a "woman scream for help."
They called 911 and told Hill when they saw him in the hallway, Birney said. "He said something to the effect, `Sorry for the noise."'
Hill had changed out of his blood-spattered shirt, walked a block and a half to his car and left the area, Birney said.
When officers arrived, they got a key to the locked room and found the victim wedged between the bed and a bookcase, Birney said. They attempted to revive her until paramedics arrived, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Likens was stabbed in the head, through an eye and ear, with a nine- inch screwdriver, Birney said. Her killer also strangled her with her New England Patriots jacket, the prosecutor added.
Hill ended up at College Hospital about 6 p.m. that same day, where he told triage nurse Joseph Baker, "I killed my girlfriend ... She made me really angry," Birney said.
He also said, "I kept stabbing her with a screwdriver over and over," Birney said.
Baker called 911 and Hill, who still had his girlfriend's blood on his hands, was arrested, Birney said.
Hill's attorney, Mitch Timbanard, deferred on an opening statement. But in court papers he said his client was "in severe distress" following the killing and "drove around for hours" afterward.
Hill is also charged with assaulting another inmate while in custody, but jurors did not hear about that case in the trial.
The victim had a history of suicide attempts and drug and alcohol abuse, according to court filings by her ex-husband.
In September 2013, James Robert "Bob" Likens IV filed for a temporary restraining order against his then-estranged wife, in which he described a chaotic scene in which she tried to pull their toddler child from his arms, ultimately triggering a call to the police.
He alleged that his spouse had "a history of mental problems, and a problem with prescription pills," and had to be hospitalized for psychiatric reasons multiple times. At the time of her killing, their children were 8, 6 and 2.
Likens told City News Service after the victim was killed that he was married to her for 18 years and that her mental health problems could be traced back to a miscarriage of twins. But she was trying to turn her life around at the time of her death.
"It sounds like she was doing better. She got an apartment and a job and she was on the up-and-up," he said, adding that she was back on speaking terms with her family and brought Hill with her to a family Thanksgiving dinner.
"She was asking about the kids. That was a positive," he said.
Likens said his ex-wife was such a talented saleswoman that Mercedes- Benz moved her family across the country to New Jersey so she could work at the then-number one dealership in the country some years ago.
"They gave us a condo on the beach, a new car and kept us out there for awhile," he said. "She was very, very smart."
But when she got pregnant with twins and lost them, she grew despondent, her ex-husband said.
"She got depressed, got some medication for it and it kind of went downhill from there," he said.