Published: September 3, 2013
A 45-year-old El Paso County man who strangled a girlfriend and stowed her body under his mobile home was sentenced Tuesday to 48 years in prison.
El Paso County District Judge Larry E. Schwartz imposed the maximum sentence available against Howard Lee York Jr. - calling the murder of Crysta Chisholm "unique in its horror." York had faced 16-48 years under a plea bargain.
"He has forfeited his right to live in a civilized society," Schwartz said.
The judge ruled the sentence will be served in addition to a 17-year prison term York received last year after pleading guilty to robbing a Colorado Springs pizza shop with a machete.
The decomposing body of Chisholm, 32, was found March 12, 2012, a month after York's arrest in the pizza shop robbery. The body was wrapped up in a comforter and secured with the same rope authorities believe was used to kill her.
At a pretrial hearing last year, an El Paso County sheriff's detective described an account by a witness, Danny Trujillo, who told authorities that he watched York strangle Chisholm in an alcohol-induced rage after she rejected his sexual advances.
In a tearful address to the court Tuesday, York disputed that Trujillo was present and said the attack had nothing to do with sex. Instead, York said he was drunk and snapped when Chisholm interrupted the Super Bowl.
"If I could change one thing in my life, it would be that," he said, sobbing.
Prosecutor Jeff Lindsey said after the hearing that Trujillo disclosed details only a witness could have supplied. He also noted that York's DNA was found inside Chisholm, though defense attorneys say the two had a romantic relationship.
Charged with accessory to murder, Trujillo was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor in exchange for his cooperation in the case, Lindsey said. A judge sentenced Trujillo to time served.
Chisholm, a mother of four, was homeless and apparently stayed with York at the mobile home, according to testimony.
York's public defenders detailed his early encounters with alcohol, saying it led to hard drug use and sent him on a lifelong downward spiral that led to five felony convictions and put York behind bars for much of his adult life.
In a letter to the court, York's sister described a doting older brother whose personality seemed to shift as a result of chemical abuse and his time behind bars.
"I am a Christian and believe the Devil got ahold of Howard and didn't let go," she wrote.