Tears flow as killer gets life

Neither family is happy in case of young mom's hammer slaying

Sarah Patten's 5-year-old daughter, Payton, asks for her mother almost every day. Each time, the child is told Patten is in heaven.

Sometimes, Payton says she wants to die, too, "so I can see my mommy in heaven."

But more often, the child's step-grandmother, Cheryl Patten, said in court Monday, Payton gets balloons and releases them into the sky -- floating gifts she hopes will reach her mother.

One day, Payton may learn the story of her mother's brutal death. And she'll know that the man a jury found responsible for it will spend the rest of his life in prison.

After a day of emotional testimony that brought two families on opposite sides of a courtroom to tears, Orange Circuit Judge Lisa T. Munyon sentenced Derek Pelto to life in prison for killing his girlfriend -- Payton's mother -- by stabbing and then striking her repeatedly with a hammer in his apartment March 29, 2003.

Handcuffed and escorted from the courtroom Monday, Pelto turned to his family and said: "Don't worry about me. I love you guys. I'll be fine."