WAUKEGAN, Ill. (STMW) — James Ealy was sentenced to natural life in prison Wednesday, following a dramatic, morning-long sentencing hearing for the 2006 strangulation murder of Mary Hutchison in the former Lindenhurst Burger King.

Hutchinson, a 45-year-old wife and mother, was strangled by Ealy after opening the safe under his command as she was preparing to open the restaurant. A jury found Ealy guilty of the crime last May.

Prosecutor Jeffrey Pavletic called Ealy a predator and a sociopath, referencing his killing of Hutchinson and his previous conviction, later overturned due to improper procedures used by Chicago police, of strangling four members of a Chicago family, including a woman who was seven months pregnant and a three-year-old boy, who was also raped.

In a closing statement, Pavletic told Lake County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Shanes that he believed the judge has never had a more “despicable” defendant before him.

Members of Hutchison’s family, including her husband, father and son, tearfully testified before the judge about the devastation her loss has wrought upon their family.

Ealy, 48, given a chance to speak before the judge imposed sentence, emphatically denied he had committed the crime, saying he was “railroaded” by police who were “criminals wearing badges.”

Public defender Keith Grant outlined what he described as a terrible upbringing in one of Chicago’s worst housing projects as helping to determine Ealy’s life.

Grant said the defense will appeal the sentence.