CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Defense attorneys say it was diminished capacity. Prosecutors call it premeditated murder.
In the end, a judge decided that Mark O’Dell will spend 25-to-31 years in state prison for the murder of 54-year-old Lorene Simpson.
It’s a case of mental illness and domestic violence.
“Today we have lived without our beautiful Lori for a 1,081 days. We miss her every day,” the victim’s sister Theresa Graham told the judge. “Mark O’Dell showed no mercy to Lori, her children and the rest of her family and friends. He is not deserving of mercy from us or the rest of this court today. It’s time for justice. Please give Mark O’Dell the longest sentence possible as he never deserves to walk free again.”
It started in July 2016.
Assistant District Attorney Bill Bunting said O’Dell, then 58 years old, drove from Midland in Cabarrus County to Pineville in Mecklenburg County where Simpson lived.
Bunting said Simpson and O’Dell dated briefly before O’Dell ended the relationship. Those close to Ms. Simpson told investigators that O’Dell felt Simpson put her kids before him. He wasn’t happy about the relationship ending.
According to investigators, just after 8 o’clock the night of July 11 2016, O’Dell arrived at the house – with a 20 gauge shotgun that he bought three days prior.
“He wrapped that shotgun in the American flag. He then parked on the street instead of the driveway. He walked up to the door with the gun concealed” said ADA Bunting.
Simpson’s son was about to open the door but when he saw the shotgun, he tried to close the door. Police say O’Dell forced his way into the house and shot Simpson twice.
The victim’s son told investigators what he saw.
“I saw mom get shot. I believe somewhere in the torso and she fell down on her head,” he told police. “There was a brief pause and he shot again this time in the head.”
The victim’s son ran to a neighbor for help.
Prosecutors say O’Dell then stabbed himself several times. His goal, they say, was to kill Simpson then take this life. He left notes behind.
ADA Bunting read portions of the letters.
“He opened with ‘I win. I win.’ And his concern at that point was please don’t forget my dogs.”
“He makes it clear – ‘if I can’t have what I want then I will cause pain for as many people as I can.’ “
“ ‘I hate leaving my dogs. I don’t mind killing Lori because she deserved it and the idea occurred to me that if she had never opened the gate to this then it never would have happened.’ “
O”Dell was initially charged with first degree murder. In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors reduced the charge to second degree murder.
ADA Bunting told the judge he was confident the District Attorney’s Office would have gotten a guilty verdict had the case proceeded to trial because there was an eye witness who would have identified O’Dell as the killer, the letters would have proven O’Dell had planned his actions and the weapon had been bought just days prior.
A conviction for first degree murder would have meant life in prison for O’Dell.
Bunting said he offered O’Dell the plea agreement because he had faith the court would have imposed the stiffest penalty possible.
Simpson’s family and friends urged the judge to do just that.
“His actions deprived my niece and nephew of the continued love and support of their only living parent. Lori did not get to see them graduate from college. She’ll never get to see them get married or have children,” said Graham.
And, the victim’s daughter – Alex Reinhart – told the judge the many ways her mother’s murder has impacted her.
“He killed the most important person in my life before I grew up as an adult.”
“He forced her son to watch as his mother died. He left us with no parents, no home and the knowledge of how evil people can be,” Reinhart said.
“I never learned how to be an adult,” she said. “I was thrust into this world without a net. The defendant killed my childhood that day too.”
“The very real dangers of people, of men never leave my mind – making it hard to trust even when that danger is imagined. And it’s sad to feel this distrust.”
“This man who should have only been a brief period in my mom’s life ended it and made himself the worst thing to have happened to our family” Reinhart told the judge.
“We believe Mr. O’Dell was suffering from diminished capacity,” said defense attorneys.
O’Dell’s attorneys say the 61-year-old had no prior record. They said the letters and his actions that day in July 2016 was “inconsistent with how he led his life.”
The defense said O’Dell has suffered for “many, many years from severe mental health issues” specifically bipolar but he “complied with treatment, sought treatment, took medications.”
“We would submit on that day there was a mental break,” said the defense. “There was mental break given this mental health issues.”
Defense attorneys said a year and a half before Simpson’s murder, O’Dell was married but his wife took her life. According to O’Dell attorneys, life became stressful the months following.
They say the end of the relationship with Simpson sent O'Dell spiraling.
O’Dell had a chance to address the court. He told the judge "if my remorse and contrition could go deeper it would.”
He said he never thought that at the age of 61 he would be sitting in court waiting to be sentenced to prison.