By MELINDA WILLIAMS
A 45-year prison term, with 18 years suspended, was handed down Thursday against a 40-year-old Pulaski man who told police he intended to kill the mother of his child when he beat her in the head with a sledgehammer, fracturing her skull.
Calling it one of the most violent attacks he has ever seen and a “heinous crime,” Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Marcus Long Jr. said the victim, Melissa Horton, “is lucky to be alive” and will “suffer permanent injuries until the day she dies” as a result of the attack by George Marvin Viers Jr.
The judge noted that the term is a deviation upward from state sentencing guidelines. Upon release from prison, Viers will be placed on 15 years of supervised probation.
Viers pleaded no contest in September to aggravated malicious wounding, breaking and entering with intent to commit murder and violation of a protective order. He could have received a life sentence on each of the wounding and breaking and entering charges. He received the maximum sentence of five years on the protective order violation.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Fleenor asked Judge Long to take several factors into consideration when sentencing Viers. First, he noted that Viers was convicted of assault and battery upon Horton six months before attacking her with the five-pound sledgehammer.
As a result of that assault, a protective order was issued and the court “not only directed him not to commit any other acts of violence against (Horton), but also gave her exclusive possession of (their home). He violated both,” said Fleenor.
He said proving a defendant’s intentions is often difficult, but in this case it wasn’t because Viers told police he intended to kill Horton. “To add insult to injury,” Fleenor added, “he suggested (Horton’s) injuries were pre-existing … that she hurt her head when she fell off the roof.”
Fleenor reminded the judge that a neurologist testified in September that Horton suffers from multiple permanent brain injuries due to the hammer attack, including aphasia. He explained that aphasia causes difficulty in communication through an inability to form sentences, find proper wording and understand words.
“There’s no doubt she has clearly suffered permanent physical impairment,” Fleenor told the court. “It’s not often I ask you to go beyond the sentencing guidelines, but I feel compelled to. This was almost like something out of a horror movie. It’s outrageous conduct, especially when there’s a protective order in effect.”
He said Viers laid in wait for Horton and then attacked her, so making an upward adjustment to guidelines is justified.
Pointing out that Viers’ only criminal record prior to the Jan. 24, 2012 attack was the July 2011 assault and battery, defense attorney Byron Shankman suggested there were mitigating circumstances that warranted a sentence within the guidelines.
Shankman said Viers sustained four to five closed head injuries by the age of 25 that cause him to suffer from “serious chronic headaches.” He also noted that Viers was suffering from a “major depressive disorder” when the attack occurred. He suggested the incident was “triggered” by a custody battle over the couple’s daughter and the fact Horton had been given court-ordered possession of the home even though Viers had purchased it.
Viers also was under the belief that the daughter was being abused, Shankman said, and “felt guilty that he wasn’t able to protect his daughter.”
The night before the attack Viers took two Prozac (anti-depressant) pills because “he felt like he was stuck in a dream … that he had to save his daughter,” Shankman told the judge. “Whether it’s true or not, that’s what he believed.”
Shankman suggested the Prozac could have played a part in the attack. He presented Judge Long with information referring to incidents in which the drug allegedly was linked to violence in some persons who used it.
However, Judge Long said no evidence had been presented that the drug was a causative factor in Viers’ actions.
“All I can say is he took two pills the night before. It can drive some people to violence. I think that’s a factor to consider,” said Shankman.
Judge Long said the level of drug that was taken is usually higher in such instances.
Shankman also told the court that Viers stopped striking Horton with the hammer when Horton said, “honey stop.” He said Viers even offered to take Horton to the hospital at that point.
Given Viers’ history, Shankman said he is surprised Viers went as long as he did without exhibiting problems. “You don’t realize how bad he is until you talk to him for an extended period of time. It’s clear he’s very disturbed and very ill and he was at the time” of the attack,” he said of Viers.
He described Viers’ demeanor as “monotone.”
Fleenor said an evaluation determined Viers was competent at the time of the attack and to stand trial. “The bottom line is … he tried to beat her to death with a sledgehammer and we know that because that’s what he told us he was going to do.”
Judge Long acknowledged Viers “obviously” has problems, which could be mitigating to a point. However, he agreed the defendant’s competency was established at the time of the crime.
“He took a five-pound sledgehammer and hit a human being in the head he had a relationship with. It’s hard to believe one human being can do that to another,” said Judge Long. “I believe he tried to kill her, but it just didn’t work out for him.”
After imposing sentence, the judge told Viers, “I know that’s a lot of years, but it was a horrible, heinous crime.”
As the judge was imposing the sentence, Horton, who was seated in the courtroom during the sentencing hearing, began to cry.
According to evidence, Pulaski police found Horton around 8:30 a.m. the day of the attack, suffering from a wound to the head, after dispatchers received numerous calls of a female yelling for help.
Fleenor said Horton, who was “bleeding profusely” told police she was attacked when she returned to her Sixth Street SW house after taking her daughter to the school bus stop. She indicated Viers came out of the bedroom and started striking her in the head four to eight times with the sledgehammer.
Horton sustained “multiple” skull fractures, according to Fleenor. A neurologist said her “prognosis for continued improvement is very limited, even with ongoing treatment.”
Viers told police he parked at the Maple Shade Plaza that morning, then walked five or six blocks to Horton’s house, entering the residence while Horton was at the bus stop.
He indicated he hid the hammer under his coat while walking to the house, then discarded it under a bridge upon fleeing the scene.
When police asked Viers his intent that day, Fleenor said, “He responded, ‘Um, I wanted to kill her.’”