A Texas man on Thursday was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his girlfriend at a Key West beach in 2017 while the two were on vacation.
Billy Earl Baker, 52, strangled 38-year-old Candice Cooper, of Big Sandy, Texas, at Smathers Beach on Aug. 4, 2017, prosecutors said.
"There is no bringing her back," her son Colton Langford, a 24-year-old law student in Arkansas, said after the hearing. "It's the best we will get."
In court earlier in the day, Langford faced Baker and told him, "I don't wish you harm, but you should get what you deserve."
A Monroe County jury convicted Baker of second-degree murder on Dec. 13, 2021, after hearing the medical examiner say the cause of death was manual strangulation with drowning and an inmate testifying that, while in jail together, Baker told him he'd killed Cooper after the two had a fight.
Additionally, the jury learned that Cooper's blood-alcohol level was .40 - which is five times the legal limit. Police found Cooper lying on the sand with the lower half of her body in the water.
Baker told police that they were swimming when he noticed Cooper was floating facedown in the water.
He maintained his innocence at Thursday's sentencing hearing at the Monroe County Courthouse.
Baker didn't comment in court. In a letter to Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Mark Jones that was read into the record Thursday, though, Baker said he doesn't know what caused Cooper's death - but he is not responsible.
"Candy was my soulmate," Baker wrote, calling her the most beautiful and funny person he has ever met. "Sure we had our spats. What couple doesn't. That just shows we had passion for one another."
Baker's public defender, Kevin McCarthy, asked Jones for a sentence of 8 to 15 years, noting his client has depression and that he was hospitalized for three to four days last year after having a stroke in jail.
Jones handed Baker the life sentence after calling the case a tragedy for Cooper's family as well as Baker's.
"You murdered Candice," Jones told him.
Jones pointed out that Baker had no business being in Florida at the time because he was on probation for a conviction of intoxicated assault in Texas - an offense prosecutors here described as a DUI with injury.
Baker had been given a 10-year suspended sentence. The rules of his probation included no alcohol, no leaving Texas and no driving unless the vehicle was equipped with an alcohol breathalyzer device that can lock the ignition, according to prosecutors.
Baker told police he and Cooper had been drinking that day but they were not drunk.
On Thursday, Baker sat alone in the jury box, shackled at his wrists and his ankles while wearing Monroe County jail-issued clothing. He sat silently while attorneys made arguments about his prison sentence and Cooper's relatives made victim impact statements.
"I pray you will admit what you've done," Cooper's sister, Christy Thurman, told Baker during her statement. "That's the only way you will have any peace."
Thurman told Baker she has forgiven him.
"It just means you don't deserve any space in my head and my heart will not be bitter," Thurman said.