PHOENIX — Katherine "Kat" Tortice's body was found in a shallow grave on an American Indian reservation in Arizona more than a decade ago, and now the man responsible for leaving the teenager for dead is going to prison for eight years.
Andre Hinton was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge David Campbell in Phoenix, who said he enhanced the punishment "to protect further victims that may be assaulted by Mr. Hinton."
Hinton originally was indicted on a second-degree murder charge but ended up pleading guilty to a lesser count of involuntary manslaughter earlier this year. After his prison term, he'll be on supervised release for three years.
Tortice's family said she aspired to be a professional basketball player or work in law enforcement like her father but was robbed of those opportunities.
"As a young woman, she was destined to accomplish so much," said her sister, Daisy.
Hinton and Tortice were dating in November 2006 when they got in an argument in a wooded area in McNary on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Hinton acknowledged striking her in the head, and not seeking medical attention when she said she needed a nap and lost consciousness. He told a friend who convinced him to bury the 16-year-old, burn their clothes and ditch the digging tools in a pond near a major highway, court documents state.
Hinton's attorney, Mark Paige, said Hinton was scared and upset at the time. He argued that his client attempted to revive Tortice and wanted to notify police but that a friend dissuaded him.
"All of those facts are consistent within a manslaughter," he said in urging the judge to sentence Hinton strictly within the sentencing guidelines of around three years in prison.
Prosecutors said Hinton had a history of abusing young women, including another teenager he dated at the same time as Tortice, and the enhanced sentence was warranted.
Tortice was missing for about a month, and her killing might have gone unsolved if not for a fight between her brother and Hinton's friend who helped him bury the body. The White Mountain Apache Police Department responded to the fight, and Charles Jones led authorities to Tortice, according to court documents.
Jones told authorities that Hinton, who was like a brother to him, told him he killed Tortice but didn't say why. Hinton did not say the same to investigators and did not speak about the crime Tuesday in court.
A medical examiner determined Tortice died of blunt force trauma but was alive for up to a day after the injury. Abrasions over her body showed it had been dragged, court documents state.
Still, no one was charged in the case for almost 10 years when the statute of limitations was set to expire.
Friends, family, associates and Hinton himself provided conflicting statements over the years. Some said Hinton repeatedly abused Tortice, both physically and mentally. Jones said Hinton never hurt Tortice. Hinton told others that Tortice hit her head on a table and that her family was responsible for her death, according to court documents.
Other rumors circulated that Tortice died of a drug overdose and that she was killed in a tractor-trailer. Neither tribal nor federal authorities charged anyone.
"Only the defendant knows what really happened on the day of the victim's murder," prosecutors later wrote in court documents.
An FBI agent reviewed the case in 2015 and re-interviewed people, including Jones.
Jones, who was in state prison on an unrelated case, pointed out the burial site on a map and showed authorities where he and Hinton ditched the tools used to dig Tortice's grave. A dive team later found a wooden handle in a lake.