LAWRENCEVILLE - Shannon Marlow testified that when he used an ax to beat his girlfriend to death last year on the eve of Valentine's Day, it was in self-defense.
A Gwinnett County jury of six men and six women didn't buy it.
Marlow, who turned 35 on Wednesday, was convicted Thursday of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and theft by receiving stolen property in the killing of 47-year-old Patricia Rabold.
Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Dawson Jackson sentenced Marlow to life in prison plus 10 years.
"This was a very brutal murder," Jackson said. "The way and manner of death is horrific."
Before sentencing, the court heard from Rabold's daughter, Rachel, who dabbed away tears and choked up several times while reading a prepared statement. In asking for the maximum sentence for her mother's killer, Rachel spoke of a "wonderful woman" with a "huge heart" - a daughter, sister, mother and aunt - taken far too soon.
"You took my last living parent in a cruel and violent way," she said, adding that only Marlow knew the truth that would evidently never come out.
Marlow was entitled to address the court but declined, simply telling his attorney, "I don't have anything to say."
At the time of the killing, Marlow said, he had been awake for five days during a crack cocaine binge. He initially told investigators he "freaked out" because he was paranoid and believed Rabold was in cahoots with a hitman. He later recanted, saying he lied to lay the foundation for an insanity plea.
Marlow said he only killed Rabold - whom he described as a hard-drinker who would "fight you like a man" - after she came at him with a knife.
"I didn't know Georgia recognized the self-defense law," he testified Wednesday.
Court records show Rabold was arrested in 2007 on battery charges involving family violence, though it is unclear who the alleged victim was.
After he knocked Rabold to the floor by punching her in the face, he said, he grabbed an ax sitting by the front door of the Edgemoor Drive home and struck her three times with its blunt end.
Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Carol Terry said Rabold was hit at least five times with the tool's blade, breaking bones and causing several lacerations, including a nearly severed finger. To Terry, this showed Rabold was trying to defend herself.
Assistant District Attorney Maggie Benson, who prosecuted the case, said Marlow will be eligible for parole in 30 years.