A 26-year-old man pleaded guilty Tuesday to the "heinous murder" of his girlfriend in her Edina apartment, then driving the body to Louisiana and burning it in a shipping container, a series of acts that mean a 20-year prison sentence.

Joseph S.A. Porter made his admissions in Hennepin County District Court in connection with the death of 27-year-old Cristina Prodan on Jan. 4 of last year.

Porter's conviction for second-degree unintentional murder drew a term of 20 years and 10 months from Judge Holton Dimick. With credit for time in jail since his arrest, Porter will serve about 13¼ years in prison and the balance on supervised release. Had Porter been convicted of the original charge of second-degree intentional murder, his maximum sentence would have been roughly twice what he received.

"When I read the criminal complaint, I thought I was watching a television movie of atrocious actions of a horrible person," Dimick said during sentencing. "I couldn't believe how you treated this lady. I couldn't believe your age."

Under state sentencing guidelines, the recommended term was from 15 to 18 years. However, because Porter admitted to not calling authorities immediately after killing Prodan, hiding the body and leaving her mother in anguish, Porter agreed to the longer term.

"This was a heinous murder, and it took police and our office months to put together the evidence necessary to bring about this guilty plea," County Attorney Mike Freeman said. "But we were not going to let him get away with just 15 years for his despicable actions, and we were successful in getting him the additional time he deserves."

The sequence of events, from Edina to New Orleans and back north again, is spelled out in the criminal complaint, Porter's statements in court and a victim impact statement from Prodan's mother:

Porter and Prodan met on Facebook and had a stormy relationship for the three months he lived in her apartment in the 4100 block of Parklawn Avenue while he was married to a man in Arkansas. Others in the apartment building had called police many times because of the noisy arguments between them.

Even after he was under a court order to stay away from the apartment, Porter would slip back in on occasion. While there on Jan. 4, Porter and Prodan again clashed, leading to him choking her to death.

He said he shoved her body into a large suitcase and "put the suitcase in the back seat of my car," Porter told the court.

He drove to New Orleans and two days later burned Prodan's body in a shipping container in a junk yard, accidentally burning himself as he lit old tires.

Porter was arrested nearly a week later in Jacksonville, Ark. He was in a car that had been stolen in New Orleans, and his jail mug shot showed fresh injuries to his face that appear to be burns. His husband, Richard T. Crawford, told investigators that Porter showed up in the stolen car at the home they had shared and admitted to killing Prodan.

Porter was sentenced in Hennepin County District Court for violating a domestic abuse no-contact order about a week before Prodan was reported missing.

Porter's mother, Arlie Kathryne, told the Star Tribune soon after her son's capture that Prodan suffered from epilepsy, which made her more vulnerable to Porter's abuse. One beating he gave Prodan caused her to miscarry, Kathryne said.

Prodan's mother told police that Porter raped her daughter, beat her service dog and killed a puppy in Arkansas, charging documents read.

On the day of Prodan's death, Livia Prodan asked police to check on her daughter about 1:15 a.m., according to police records. Less than a half-hour before, an officer had encountered Porter and Prodan in a car near the home, according to court records. Porter told the officer that Prodan refused to get out of the car. Prodan said she wanted to work things out with Porter, but she got out and walked toward her home, and Porter drove off.

Since then, Livia Prodan was left in despair and wondering about what had happened to her daughter until charges filed six months later laid out the crime.

In her impact statement, Livia Prodan wrote, "She is my only child. I cry all the time."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482