MAYS LANDING — The Egg Harbor Township man who admitted beating his longtime girlfriend to death with a hammer in 2017 while she slept was sentenced to 40 years in prison Friday.

Lashaun Smith, 37, who pleaded guilty in January to killing 28-year-old Sarah Phillips on Nov. 3, 2017, in their Zion Road home while their four children were there apologized for his actions during his sentencing in Atlantic County Superior Court.

“I would just like to say that I’m sorry for what has happened and the process of everything,” Smith said. “I just want to move on from this situation and, hopefully, everybody that’s suffered because of my wrongdoings can move on and have some kind of closure and live some type of normal life.”

Phillips’ aunt, Michele Moulton, read a statement from Phillips’ mother, Paula Modelle, who has custody of Phillips’ four children.

“Every night, I close my eyes. I hear my daughter screaming and begging for her life,” Modelle’s statement read. “My grandchildren live in fear that their father will get out of jail and come and kill me and them. They are afraid of him.”

Modelle wrote that she doesn’t have a life anymore, “just a waking nightmare of grief and pain.” The children, ages 6 to 12, are afraid people think they’re bad like their father, she added, before asking that Smith be locked away for the rest of his life.

Chief Assistant Prosecutor Anne Crater outlined Smith’s history of domestic violence, including a restraining order against him by his ex-wife.

“Women and other victims of domestic violence, they need to know that they can come forward and be considered as important and the crimes against them will be important and the court will give the sentence that is deserved under the circumstances,” she said.

Crater also read statements from Phillips’ oldest daughter and her father, Michael Phillips.

“This vision haunts me as well as the memory, in the following days, of the smell of chemicals that cleaned the crime scene,” Michael Phillips’ letter read. “The stained floor, the soiled mattress removed from the house and the splatter removed from the walls.”

As Crater read, Michael Phillips sat in the front row of the gallery with tears in his eyes.

Sarah Phillips’ oldest daughter, who was not present in count, wrote a letter on behalf of all the children, Crater said.

“We all want you to know that our mother was a wonderful person. Her death was tragic to all of us,” Crater read. “It left a huge hole in our hearts. We all wish we could have her back, but we know that’s not possible. My father’s actions left his four children without a mother or a father.”

Before handing down the sentence, Judge Bernard E. DeLury called the court a “place of imperfect justice.”

“Perfect justice would permit the return to life of one who has been violently and unjustly taken from those who love her,” he said. “That’s just not possible.”

He added that Smith’s guilty plea “gives the survivors of this horrific crime certainty as to the factual guilt of this defendant, without the vagaries and uncertainties of a jury trial.”

“Today, you know this defendant is guilty of murder because he told you he is,” DeLury said.

Under the No Early Release Act, Smith must serve 85 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. He was remanded to the Atlantic County jail after the sentencing.

Contact: 609-272-7241 mbilinski@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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