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Judge sentences Barry Whitton to life in prison for wife’s murder

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SCOTTSBORO, Ala. - Thursday, a Jackson County man was sentenced for the murder of his wife in 1997.

Barry Whitton, convicted last month of the murder of Michelle Townson Whitton, was sentenced to life in prison.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange's office prosecuted the case, and Strange was present during the hearing.

During the hearing, lead prosecutor Leigh Gwathney read a letter from Michelle Whitton's mother, addressed to the court.  Multiple pages outlined the pain she has endured since her daughter was murdered.

"Michelle was a decent person," the letter read, "She loved her family very much. I give God the glory that her body was found."

"I gave it all to God and went on with my life," the letter went on to say.

There were tears in the courtroom as the letter was read, but Whitton remained stoic.

In addressing the court later in the proceedings, Gwathney said "There is no greater crime than to take the life of another. There will be no closure, there is no closure, but there is justice."

The state of Alabama asked that Whitton be sentenced to the maximum sentence allowed in this case, which is the sentence of life.

The defense didn't provide any statements to the court in this hearing.

Judge John Graham asked Whitton to come to the podium before he sentenced him.

Addressing Whitton, Judge Graham said based on what the State said during the hearing and the facts of the case, he would sentence Whitton to life in prison.

There were sighs of relief in the courtroom from Michelle's family.

"I thought a lot about what I might say to you today, if anything," Judge Graham told Whitton. He went on to say that everything that had occurred to him to say had been said by Michelle's mother, in her letter read by Gwathney to the court. Judge Graham told Whitton he couldn't add anything to it that could add to it, and said the letter sums up the pain and agony that his actions caused.

Attorney General Strange spoke after the sentencing, addressing Michelle's friends, family, and law enforcement.

"Cold cases are the most difficult to solve, and to bring to court, and to get a conviction and so I'm especially proud of our team of lawyers who have worked closely with the district attorney and the investigators here in Jackson County to bring justice to the family," Strange said.

Gwathney, the lead prosecutor, also thanked law enforcement for their hard work and dedication.

Whitton's sentence will allow for parole at some point down the road.

"But I think it's highly unlikely that he will ever be out of prison," Strange said.

Separate charges

Whitton is also accused of intimidating a witness in the case and promoting prison contraband.

He is also a suspect in the disappearance of his second wife, Kimberly Whitton, and stepdaughter, Haleigh Culwell in 2007.  No charges have been filed in that case, though.  They were never found.

Attorney General Strange said he can't comment on the ongoing investigation, but hopes with this conviction it will lead others to come forward with information that may shed new light on the case.

RELATED: Read extensive coverage of Whitton's trial.