In the end, it took a Dallas County just six minutes to sentence Antonio Cochran to life in prison for the 2015 murder of Zoe Hastings.
Cochran, 37, will be eligible for parole in 30 years. Cochran did not react as the sentence was handed down. Cochran’s sister and former pastor had begged the jury for mercy.
Monday’s quick decision came after four days of acrimonious deliberations among the 12-member jury. On Saturday, the jury Cochran guilty of murder in the stabbing death of the 18-year-old. Hasting disappeared from outside a White Rock Lake pharmacy after leaving to return a movie and to attend church.
Hastings family was upset after the jury found him guilty of murder, not capital murder. A capital murder verdict would have automatically sent him to prison for life without the possibility of parole.
They were relieved after Monday’s decision because they had feared he would receive a lesser punishment.
“We are grateful to the jury, they had to look at and hear terrible things and we pray they can move on with their lives and feel peace with their decision,” said Hastings father, Jim Hastings.
He thanked police, prosecutors, and the witnesses who sought justice for his daughter. He also thanked the community and their church family for standing by them. He thanked God for helping see them through their grief.
“I think what he was due was to spend the rest of his life in jail,” her father said, his voice shaking. “We didn’t make that choice. He made that choice.”
Prosecutor Pat Kirlin focused on the Hastings’ parents in his comments.
“I choose to focus on them and what they’ve been through,” he said. “I’ve done this for 30 years and I see a lot of evil so I choose to focus on the light – the Hastings family. They taught me a lot about life and family.”
Homicide Det. Scott Sayers credited the teamwork between the police department and the DA’s office.
“We bought justice to the Hastings family,” he said.
During Monday’s punishment phase, a former high school classmate testified that that girls called him, “Chester the molester,” because the way he looked at them made them uncomfortable.
There were tears in the eyes of the jury and in the courtroom as Hastings’ father, Jim, testified about what his daughter’s death had done to their family. The jurors appeared visibly shaken after sexually suggestive messages that he had written on Facebook.
The case against Cochran was a circumstantial case built largely around Cochran’s DNA being on the handle of the murder weapon, cell phone records and other DNA evidence showing he could not be excluded as a contributor of the DNA.