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James Mitchell Carter had nothing to say when a judge told him Friday in a courtroom that his opportunity had arrived to speak, just before he was sentenced to life in prison on his guilty plea to first-degree murder in the beating death of his estranged wife.

The sentence, which theoretically could allow Carter to one day be released, had been agreed to at an earlier plea hearing, where prosecutors withdrew their intent to seek a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Both the slain woman’s father and the judge at Friday’s sentencing hearing urged Carter to seek rehabilitation if he is admitted to a prison facility that focuses on that process.

“You’re going to decide if you’re going to be a model inmate, or not,” Circuit Judge David W. Densford said.

Carter, a 46-year-old Lexington Park resident who identified himself last winter to authorities as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, was arrested last February shortly after Kimberly Dawn Carter, 38, was found outside her Great Mills area home, beaten with a chunk of concrete.

Larry James Richards, Kimberly Carter’s father, said in court Friday that the four younger of his daughter’s five daughters now are no longer together, as they are cared for by other family members. “Because her death was caused by their father, there’s no father to comfort them,” Richards said.

As for forgiveness of James Carter’s actions, Richards added, “We as a family are working on that.”

Carter appeared in his estranged wife’s bedroom at about 3 a.m. on Feb. 19, St. Mary’s detectives alleged in charging papers, and he initially got into a scuffle with Thomas Norris, her boyfriend, who struck the intruder before running outside.

Kimberly Carter escaped through a window, but her husband followed her out the window into the home’s backyard and used a chuck of concrete to beat her around the head and shoulders, St. Mary’s State’s Attorney Richard Fritz (R) said at Carter’s plea hearing in August.

At Friday’s sentencing hearing, the prosecutor said, “Not only did he kill his wife, but he destroyed his children.”

James Carter chose not to speak at his sentencing hearing. “Mr. Carter accepts responsibility for this horrible tragedy,” public defender Gerald J. Riviello said.

“It makes no sense,” Densford said of the crime, as he read from a presentence investigation report that Carter told a probation agent, “It takes a lot to set me off.”

“I’ve never seen anybody ‘set off’ greater than in this case,” Densford said.

James Carter and Kimberly Carter were married for about 20 years, a sister of the victim said after the earlier plea hearing. Court papers state that Kimberly Carter and James Carter had been separated since the middle of last year, and that she told him shortly before he killed her that she was going to soon serve him with divorce papers. She died at the scene of the attack, her residence located in the Greenview West housing area off Chancellor’s Run Road.

Police found James Carter a few hours later at his home in a housing area off Route 5 near Great Mills. He told a court commissioner after his arrest that he worked at the post office in Great Mills, and that he had been employed by the postal service for 13 years.

Kimberly Carter worked as a nurse at a Washington, D.C., hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, and her father described her in court on Friday as “both a giver and defender of life.”

He said this week from his Pennsylvania home, “My daughter was killed for absolutely no reason.”

jwharton@somdnews.com