By DANA FERGUSON
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Massachusetts steelworker who said he transformed into a “monster” during a deadly fight with his ex-girlfriend at her Wisconsin home last winter was sentenced Tuesday to two decades in prison.
Dane County Circuit Judge John Markson ordered Phillip Byrd to spend 20 years behind bars and eight more years of supervised release for killing Cheryl Gilberg. Byrd pleaded guilty in July to one count of second-degree intentional homicide and faced up to 60 years in prison.
Sheriff’s deputies found Gilberg, 43, dead in her Mazomanie home in February. Investigators arrested Byrd in Janesville the next day. According to court documents, he told detectives he and Gilberg got into a fight and her gun went off twice during the struggle.
Byrd’s lawyer, Jon Helland, said Gilberg and Byrd met a month earlier through an online dating service and that within five days of meeting Byrd, she mentioned in social media messages that she was in love.
They ended their short-lived relationship within weeks, though, and before their fatal fight last February. That day, Byrd was retrieving his reading glasses from Gilberg’s home and they discussed their relationship, Helland said. He said when Byrd told Gilberg he had started dating another woman, Gilberg pulled her pink .38-caliber revolver. He told the court that Byrd deserved leniency because he was defending himself.
Byrd, a 40-year-old body builder and former wrestler, told Markson that he deserved to be punished. He said he abused alcohol and testosterone supplements the night that he and Gilbert fought.
“It made me into a monster and that monster needs to be punished,” Byrd said.
Byrd’s two daughters and his cousin spoke on his behalf, seeking leniency.
“I know for a fact if he could take this back, he would. If all this could be rewound, it would be,” his daughter, Chastity Byrd, told the court.
Gilberg’s family and friends wept throughout the proceeding. They left the courtroom during Byrd’s remarks and when his family members spoke.
Assistant District Attorney Corey Stephan said Byrd’s history of drug use, mental illness and criminal activity made him a “powder keg.” He read a letter to the court from Gilberg’s family and friends in which they asked the court to punish Byrd severely.
The judge said he didn’t believe Byrd was a “powder keg,” as Stephan suggested. Byrd’s history of mental illness and of substance abuse explained some of his behavior, but he still killed someone and should face substantial punishment, Marson said.
“Certainly you need to go to prison and you need to go to prison for a long time,” the judge told Byrd. “The reality is, Mr. Byrd, that you are that person. You are the person who killed Cheryl,” Markson said.
Both families sobbed when Markson announced Byrd’s sentence. Follow @Dfergasaurus