MANSFIELD - Jamie Akers, victim advocate for the Richland County Prosecutor's Office, asked for more tissues as she entered the courtroom Wednesday.
The change-of-plea hearing for Dequalan D. Harris was going to be emotional.
Harris, 35, of Texas, pleaded guilty to murder, abuse of a corpse and obstructing official business for strangling his wife, Tamara R. Harris, some time between July 12 and 14.
In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dismissed charges of aggravated murder, murder, endangering children and misdemeanor resisting arrest.
Common Pleas Judge James DeWeese then imposed the agreed-upon sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
About a half-dozen of Tamara Harris' loved ones drove from Texas — a 24-hour drive over two days — to be at the hearing.
Dequalan Harris was arrested July 16 in the 400 block of Woodridge Drive in Mansfield. His wife's body was in the trunk of the car.
"The murder occurred somewhere between Cedar Hill, Texas, and Mansfield, Ohio," Prosecutor Gary Bishop said, adding authorities believe it happened closer to Cedar Hill.
Bishop said Richland County could claim jurisdiction because the body was discovered here.
Dequalan Harris had no prior criminal record. Bishop said there also were no hints of premeditation in this case.
Harris briefly addressed the court, turning to his wife's family.
"I just want to say to the family that I'm sorry for what happened," he said. "I loved her just like y'all did."
A sergeant from Cedar Hill told Mansfield police in July that the victim had been missing for a few days. He added the vehicle's On-Star feature indicated her car was in the 400 block of Woodridge Drive.
Demika Rucker, Harris' girlfriend, lives in the 400 block. She told police that Harris arrived at her residence on the afternoon of July 15. Harris told officers he had not seen his wife since July 13, then tried to flee on foot.
Mansfield police Lt. Rob Skropits previously told the News Journal that Harris was in town "for love" and "an internet connection."
La'Rhonda Garrett, one of Tamara's sisters, was the only family member to address the court, though two others sent letters to DeWeese.
Tamara had three children, ages 15, 9 and 2. Dequalan Harris is the father of the youngest child.
"Me and my sister were like twins," Garrett said. "I have to step up at times to be Mama."
Garrett said she did not understand how one person could take the life of another.
"May God have mercy on your soul," she said to her former brother-in-law.
Lagina Weatherly, Tamara's mother, sent a letter, which Akers read to the court. She said her 2-year-old grandson is having trouble sleeping because he witnessed his mother's murder.
DeWeese told Harris, whose parents were in the courtroom, he made a "terrible mistake."
"Sometimes we let ourselves be ruled by anger," the judge said, adding Harris made a decision in haste.
After the hearing, Garrett talked more about her sister. She said Tamara was getting ready to go back to nursing school. She was a licensed practical nurse and wanted to become a registered nurse.
"She was a fun-loving, outgoing person," Garrett said. "She loved helping people."
Garrett, who is trying to forgive Harris through her Christian faith, said the family has struggled since Tamara's death.
"She was a really good person," Garrett said. "She didn't deserve that."