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Jackson County jury recommends life sentence in motel murder

Updated: 2013-03-29T02:18:17Z

By MARK MORRIS

The Kansas City Star

Christopher M. Sanders was six months sober but wanted a couple of tall beers to end a long day cooking at an Independence restaurant.

Sherilyn Hill, 39, was out with friends that evening, Nov. 22, 2011, looking for someone to buy crack for her.

They met in line at an Independence Avenue convenience store while Sanders bought the beer. As he recalled the encounter in Jackson County Circuit Court this week, she asked whether he wanted to party.

“She said, ‘Let’s get a room,’” Sanders testified. “I hadn’t been with a woman for a while, and it sounded good.”

What followed was a confused night of drinking, smoking and fighting that ended with Hill’s death in Room 206 of Royale Inn, 600 Paseo, a familiar stop for police. In the last year they have answered 116 calls for service at that address, department records show.

A jury sorted it out Thursday, convicting Sanders, 36, of second-degree murder and recommending a life sentence.

Authorities recovered Hill’s body in December 2011, about two weeks after her death, wrapped in the sheet with which she was strangled and tucked into the bottom of a motel stairwell.

Hill’s friends said Sanders beat her savagely, but Sanders testified at his trial that he struck her in self-defense after she threatened him with a knife and tried to rob him of $350, all that was left of his paycheck after spending $150 for crack and the room.

A second woman in the motel room confirmed to authorities that Hill indeed had threatened Sanders with a knife. But, according to her story, Hill put it away and settled down after she began smoking the crack.

There the stories diverged wildly.

The second woman said that while Hill focused on the crack with her back to Sanders, he kicked her in the side of the head, “using a martial arts move.” He then began kicking her “a thousand times” in the head until she was unconscious.

And before fleeing the room, the second woman saw Sanders tie up Hill in a bedsheet, she told police.

Sanders’ version from the stand was quite different. Three times, he contended, Hill menaced him with a knife, her demands for more crack becoming more insistent. The last time, Sanders said, she slid the knife under his throat and announced that she was going to rob him.

Sanders said he fought back.

“I kicked her in the chest and knocked her back,” he testified. “I run up on her and busted her in the mouth, hard as I could.”

He said he accidentally kicked her in the face — his explanation of how how Hill’s DNA ended up in threads around the soles of his boots — when he tried to kick the knife away from her as she sprawled on the floor of the motel bathroom.

That apparently knocked her unconscious, he said.

“I rocked her pretty hard, but it wasn’t that bad,” Sanders said. “She looked all right when I left her.”

But prosecutor Tim Dollar asked jurors how, if Sanders kicked Hill once while she was down, her blood spatter appeared on a clothes rod more than five feet off the floor.

And as Hill fought for life, Sanders strangled her with a bedsheet and then carried her body out of the room toward the stairwell, as outdoor surveillance video showed, Dollar argued.

“What kind of man can take that dead body and take it down those stairs and dump it like trash?” Dollar asked. “It tells you who he is.”

In the trial’s sentencing phase, defense lawyer Devon Pasley urged jurors to recommend a 10-year prison sentence, saying Sanders could use the time for education, job training and substance abuse treatment.

And Pasley left jurors with a thought on which everyone could agree:

“Things went terribly wrong in Room 206.”

To reach Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send email to mmorris@kcstar.com.

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