NEW PORT RICHEY — He was 9 the last time he saw his mother, but three decades could not dull James Earley's memory of how his stepfather beat her.
On Thursday — finally — Earley watched that man go off to prison for the rest of his life.
"We did our sentence for 30 years," Earley said after a jury convicted William Hurst of first-degree murder. "He gets to do his now."
Amy Rose Hurst, a 29-year-old mother of two, disappeared from her New Port Richey home in September 1982. A fishing boat crew found her body the next month several miles off the coast of Anna Maria Island. Her body, wrapped in an afghan and a green bedspread, was tied to a concrete block.
Several witnesses for the prosecution testified the couple had a volatile relationship and that Hurst often struck his wife. When she disappeared, detectives questioned Hurst but could not arrest him because they had no body, and thus no crime.
The body went unidentified until 2011 after Earley had found an online data base about missing people and submitted a DNA sample that matched. The Pasco Sheriff's Office then tracked Hurst to Kentucky and used secret recordings to build their case.
In one recording played this week in court, Hurst could be heard telling a friend that his wife's death was accidental. "I never hit her or nothing,'' he said, "but she was laying on the couch. She got p---ed off at me and she went and kicked me. She missed me. Her head went down (on the concrete floor) and it busted her head open.''
A medical examiner concluded the wounds could not have been from a fall.
Hurst said he panicked and then got in touch with some friends who were cocaine dealers. They disposed of the body, he said on the recording. "I've been crying for days,'' he said. He called Amy Hurst the love of his life.
In his closing statements, Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis referenced those comments.
"We know he loves her right?" Halkitis asked the jury. "The person he loves to hit. The person he loves to throw down a flight of stairs. The person he loves to backhand."
The jury deliberated for two hours before announcing its verdict. Amy Hurst's daughter, Lisa Stewart, cried out when the jury announced its decision. Amy Hurst's sisters clutched each other. Circuit Judge William Webb called Hurst to the podium for sentencing, but Halkitis said a family member wanted to say a few words.
Judy Briggs, who lives in Jacksonville, N.C., said when her sister disappeared she called the Pasco Sheriff's Office every day, until she was told not to anymore. She saved the case number all these years, and she never gave up searching for answers. She walked past the galley into open court with a white piece of paper in her hand. She set herself and looked at her sister's killer.
"Bill, this is what I'd like to say to you," she began.
He stood with his hands cuffed in front of him.
"You destroyed two families," she said. "Not just ours. Your family was destroyed, too. You should be ashamed of yourself."
When she stood with her family members outside the courthouse, she said she still felt angry. She remembered a memorial held for Amy after she was finally identified. It was beautiful, she said, but it brought back the pain.
She offered one last wish for the man who killed her.
"When he goes to bed and closes his eyes," she said, "I hope he sees Amy every night, so he can really suffer."