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Preston Strong sentenced to two life terms
The man who murdered a Yuma physician five years ago will be spending the rest of his life behind prison bars.
Yuma County Superior Court Judge John Nelson sentenced Preston Alton Strong on Friday to two life terms in prison with no chance for release. The life terms reflected two counts of first-degree murder in the beating and strangulation of Dr. Satinder Gill in Nov. 1, 2007.
Nelson also sentenced Strong to a combined 25-1/2 years for kidnapping, one count of armed robbery, one count of burglary, two counts of aggravated assault and one count of attempted arson to run consecutively with the two life sentences.
Strong was found guilty of the charges in October after a 39-day bench trial that he chose over a jury trial to avoid the death penalty. He was also given credit for 1,841 days previously served on the kidnapping charge.
Prior to the judge issuing his ruling, prosecutor William Katz of the Yuma County Attorney's Office asked that the court impose the life sentences, saying the evidence at trial showed that Strong should never be released from prison.
“What does a man deserve, who took an elderly person in our community hostage for a prolonged period of time, beat him, extorted money from him, and then strangled him?” Katz said.
The 62-year-old Gill was found dead inside his home at 4596 W. La Quinta Loop a day after he had been murdered. He had been suffocated and had received blunt-force trauma to his head. A large sum of money was missing.
Attorney Kristi Riggins of the Yuma County Public Defender's Office, who represented Strong, asked the court to impose a statutory life sentence for the murder charges, which means her client must serve a minimum of 25 years, and the presumptive sentence on the non-murder charges, and that they run concurrently.
“With all due respect to the court, we strongly disagree with the court's determination that Mr. Strong is guilty,” Riggins said. “Put simply, judge, it is our position that Mr. Strong is an innocent man and you are sentencing an innocent man to prison.”
Strong also spoke prior to being sentenced. He spent nearly 45 minutes responding to testimony offered during his trial that he said proved he was not the killer. He accused Yuma police of withholding evidence of his alibi, said some of the stolen money is unaccounted for and that an expert witness for the prosecution testified that it was possible for cellphone calls to connect to a tower even though it wasn't the closest one.
He also told the court that DNA found on the cloth belt used to strangle Gill did not belong to him, nor did the two strands of blond hair found in the bathroom where the murder took place.
“There are a lot of things in this case that shows I'm not a killer,” Strong said. “I want to thank my legal team for helping me out with the corrupt justice system here in Yuma County.”
While he thanked his attorneys, Strong stopped short of offering an apology to Gill's family, saying, “My condolences go to the Gills, but I have no need to apologize because I didn't do anything wrong.”
Strong is also a suspect in the 2005 murders of six people at a La Mesa Street home.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.