CHICAGO (CBS) — Trent Lee stabbed his girlfriend nine times with two knives while they were at a party in Zion on Oct. 14, 2010.

Lee, 45, inflicted some of the wounds on Nichelle McNeal while she was helpless and on her back trying to escape him, Assistant State’s Attorney Caryn Baron said at Lee’s sentencing hearing Tuesday.

“It doesn’t get any more brutal and heinous than the manner in which this defendant attacked” McNeal, Baron said.

Lee previously pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for a prison term of between 20 and 40 years. He could have spent up to 60 years in prison had he not taken the deal.

Lake County Associate Judge George Bridges sentenced Lee to 37 years in prison Tuesday, telling him that his extensive criminal history gave Lee a “life sentence on the installment plan.”

Lee has been in prison at least nine times, and has multiple battery charges dating back 30 years, Baron said, acknowledging Lee also has a history of mental health issues.

Lee has a history of blackouts, has been diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic, defense attorney Alex Rafferty said.

When given a chance to speak, Lee said drugs and alcohol were involved when he murdered his girlfriend of six years.

“I would like to apologize to the McNeal family on the tragedy I caused. I didn’t mean to kill my girl,” he said.

McNeal left behind seven children, two grandchildren and her parents. Family members described her a beautiful woman with a big smile who loved to crack jokes.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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