Joyce Sturdivant, who was convicted Friday of fatally shooting her husband of almost 40 years in the back of the head while he slept, was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison.
Jurors in Waco’s 54th State District Court, who found Sturdivant guilty of the lesser charge of murder Friday night, also recommended that Judge Matt Johnson sentence the frail 66-year-old to 15 years in prison for attempted capital murder for her second attempt to hire someone to kill Joe Sturdivant Jr.
Sturdivant, her wrists shackled to a chain around her waist, showed little emotion as the judge read the sentences. She began crying Friday night when she was found guilty.
“I just think she is in some form of shock right now,” said attorney Russ Hunt Sr., who represented Sturdivant with Michelle Tuegel.
The judge ordered Sturdivant to serve the sentences concurrently, meaning she will be eligible for parole in 15 years. Had the jury convicted her of capital murder instead of murder, Sturdivant would have been sentenced to an automatic life prison term with no possibility of parole.
Special prosecutor Guy Cox, who prosecuted the case with Alan Bennett, said he thinks the verdict was just, considering Sturdivant’s age and reported medical ailments. He said he thinks jurors found her guilty of murder instead of capital murder after 5 1/2 hours of sometimes tense deliberations to give them more flexibility in sentencing.
“She’s an older lady, but she’s also a murderer,” Cox said.
Prosecutors had alleged capital murder by telling jurors that Sturdivant profited from $92,000 in insurance proceeds after her husband’s death that she put back into the family’s struggling transmission shop on South 18th Street. Presiding juror Brad Harrell declined to discuss the deliberations. He read a statement jurors drafted for the media.
“The jury is comfortable with the verdict and the sentence, based on the evidence presented in the case,” Harrell said.
Sturdivant killed her husband, a former champion stock-car driver, in October 2008 at their South Robinson Drive residence. Trial evidence revealed that she tried to hire two sets of hit men to kill him for her in September 2007 and September 2008.
“Show her the same sympathy and compassion that she showed Joe Sturdivant. None,” Bennett told jurors in summations Monday morning. “She twice tried to hire someone else to kill him, and when that didn’t work, she took matters into her own hands. . . . The blood of Joe Sturdivant is crying out for proper punishment.”
Sturdivant’s attorneys spent much of the six-day trial trying to convince the jury that Sturdivant’s estranged son, Joe Sullins Jr., is a more likely suspect in Joe Sturdivant’s murder because he feared he was being pushed out of the family business and thought he was entitled to a share of Sturdivant’s estate.
“This is a case with more reasonable doubt than any of the cases I’ve handled recently,” Hunt said after the trial.
Sullins declined comment after trial. Earlier Monday, he was escorted from the courtroom by a deputy for angry responses to testimony.
Sullins’ wife, Rhonda Rostockyj, told Sturdivant in a victim-impact statement that it was shameful that she tried to blame her son for what she did, adding that besides her husband, Sullins was the only other person who ever tried to care for her.
Calling her selfish and greedy, Rostockyj said Sturdivant disowned her children and ran the business into the ground.
Sturdivant, who testified for more than two hours on Friday, denied that she killed her husband or tried to hire anyone to do it for her.
Her friends and several shop employees also testified that the couple seemed like a match made in heaven and that they appeared to truly love and care about each other.
Ali Abulla Mohammed, 60, a longtime Sturdivant friend and confidant, testified that, at Sturdivant’s request, he enlisted Christopher Chatman to enter the Sturdivant residence in September 2007 and told him to knock out Joe Sturdivant while he slept.
He said Joyce Sturdivant claimed that her husband was physically abusing her and she wanted Mohammed to kill him. Sturdivant put up the couple’s six dogs and left the door open for them the night of the home invasion, Mohammed said.
Chatman said “Big Joe” woke up while he was standing over his bed and rushed him. They fought and Sturdivant was getting the best of Chatman before Chatman hit him in the head several times with the gun. That allowed him to escape, he testified.
Mohammed testified that their failed attempt angered Joyce Sturdivant, who demanded they return to “finish the job.”
Witnesses also testified that a year later, Joyce Sturdivant was looking for hit men again and gave her friend, Deborah Dieterich, two diamond rings for payment to a man Dieterich found to kill Joe Sturdivant.
The men did not carry out the plan, and Robinson police recovered one of the rings from a man in Teague who bought it from one of the would-be hit men, trial testimony revealed.