McGowan Murderer Sentenced to Life Plus 79 Years

By: Bianca Spinosa, Jennifer Black Email
By: Bianca Spinosa, Jennifer Black Email

May 26, 2010

Michael Pritchett will spend the rest of his life in prison for the 2007 murder of 26-year-old Jayne McGowan.

Pritchett received a life sentence without parole on his capital murder charge. In addition, he received 50 years for a robbery charge, 20 years for breaking and entering and three years for each of the three firearm charges.

In the five-hour sentencing, the judge called this a tragic case for both McGowan and Pritchett. He said he thought carefully about the case before the sentencing.

McGowan's parents and sister, Meghan Casano, all testified for the prosecution, having to relive the events of McGowan's death in court.

"It was difficult, unpleasant, [but] necessary for Jayne and necessary for this community," her father James McGowan said. "We're glad this part is over, but of course it never ends for us."

"I think of her every single day," her mother Signe McGowan said. "It doesn't stop. And it's always the very little things."

Pritchett entered a surprise guilty plea in January .

The defense argued that Pritchett, who was 18 at the time of the murder, had an abusive and traumatic childhood. A psychiatrist speaking for the defense said Pritchett had been sadistically abused by his stepfather, who was a sex offender. She said Pritchett was attached to his mother, whose death during his teenage years caused him to become depressed and withdrawn.

"He's twenty years old. There goes his life. Now he's got nothing," said Robin Bryant, a family friend of the Pritchetts. "He should have thought before following someone, and doing something stupid."

According to the prosecution, Pritchett's cousin and accomplice Doug Gentry was the first to shoot McGowan. He shot her three times in the head, but the shots weren't fatal. Pritchett told police he fired the fourth shot because McGowan was suffering, but the judge said he should have called 911, and that was an impact in the sentencing.

"In this moment today, I think it was the most we could have hoped for," said Meghan Casano, Jayne's sister.

It will be the family's last visit to Charlottesville in a while, but Jayne's memory lives on in the community where she was loved.

"She loved UVa and loved Charlottesville, and I think Charlottesville misses her," said Signe McGowan.

Pritchett showed very little emotion in court, though he did cry when a former teacher he was close to had kind words to say about him as a teenager.

Pritchett's accomplice and cousin, William Gentry, faced the same charges in the murder and breaking and entering. He is already serving a life term.

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