Thomas Francis received a sentence of life plus seven years in Newton County Superior Court Thursday morning for the 2006 murder of his wife Denise Michele "Shelly" Francis.
Francis, 63, in an orange jumpsuit, handcuffs and glasses, looked quietly ahead as Judge Horace Johnson handed him the maximum possible sentence for murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, family violence battery and obstruction of an emergency call. The minimum possible sentence would have been life plus five years - only two years less.
Before the sentencing, Shelly's sister, Yvette Moore, read a victim impact statement with a cracking voice.
"Why did he shoot her three times? Why didn't he just walk away?" she asked. "I will never understand."
Moore said her memory of her sister's voice and laugh had been replaced with the voice from the 911 call as she begged for help.
"I thought I had forgiven Tommy... I'm not so sure," she said. "I hope the sound of Shelly begging is burned into his memory forever."
Jurors found Francis guilty last week of 11 counts, including one count of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, five counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, one count of family violence battery and one count of obstruction of an emergency call for fatally shooting Shelly on the morning of Oct. 31, 2006 at their Social Circle home. Shelly was able to call 911 before the line was cut and she was shot one last time in the head.
Francis' sister and relatives left the courtroom, quietly weeping.
Shelly's mother, Gloria Parnell, said justice had been achieved, but that the families had been torn. "I have found justice for Shelly but my heart goes out to his family," she said, adding that Francis had children, grandchildren and an elderly father.
She went to Shelly's graveside last week to tell her about the verdict, and wondered what her daughter would have said, seeing Francis in the orange jumpsuit. Parnell said she had been hoping to see any kind of remorse from Francis but had been disappointed.
Francis' attorney, David LaMalva, said his client was exploring the options regarding an appeal.
Family members described Shelly, 52, as a lively woman who was always carefully put together, bold with her religion and loved to decorate.
"Shelly was just full of life," said her sister, Yvette Moore. "She loved to cut up."
"She had the most infectious laugh," agreed Parnell, smiling at the memory.
Moore said her sister loved to entertain, putting together batches of finger foods. But "she couldn't cook worth a lick," said Moore, shaking her head. "She tried. (My husband) and I wouldn't say anything."
Shelly's passion was decorating her house, said her mother, which she was very particular about.
"Everything was in its place," Parnell said. "You could open one of her drawers and go through it and she would know."
Parnell described Shelly as a meek, asthmatic child who grew into an independent woman who moved out of the house at 18, after graduating from Newton High School a year early, to escape a difficult domestic situation.
Shelly would often work two or three jobs to earn enough money for the things she wanted, said her mother, such as the $200 sweaters she loved. She worked at a bar even though she disliked alcohol, where she made good money. Parnell said she had a memory like an elephant.
Shelly was able to save up and buy a house in Conyers and married young, which didn't work out, said her mother. Though she never had any children of her own, Moore said she was a devoted aunt, and would find ways to help other people, such as collecting supplies for a single mother whose house burned down, or sponsoring a child for church camp.
Parnell remembers she was surprised the first time Shelly pointed out Tommy Francis, whom she met while working at Ginn Motor Company as a tag and title clerk, because Francis was not Shelly's usual type.
"She said, 'Mama, look, there's the man I was telling you about,'" recalled Parnell. "I'm turning around and I said 'That one?'"
She said Tommy waved and Shelly waved back, giggling.
"I said, 'Shelly, he's an old man,' And she said, 'Yeah, but Mama, he's good to me.'"
The two were married in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., after only a few months of courtship, but family friction was not far away as neither liked the other's family, according to relatives' testimony.
Parnell said towards the end, her daughter suspected Francis was involved with another woman, but still asked Parnell to watch out for him.
She said her daughter's birthday was last week, just before the start of the trial.