Man Sentenced to Life for Death of Va. College Student

A Fredericksburg, Virginia, man will spend the rest of his life in prison for the abduction and strangulation of a University of Mary Washington student.

On Tuesday, a judge upheld a jury's recommendation that Steven Briel be sentenced to life in prison with an additional 11 years.

Grace Mann, 20, was killed April 17, 2015, at the home she shared with Briel and two other roommates.

Mann's family thanked police and prosecutors.

"I haven't been able to order Grace's headstone, which I should've done a while ago, because I haven't felt we're done," said her mother, Melissa Mann.

"I am not an attorney. I am just a heartbroken person who wants their baby back desperately," she continued tearfully. "After we're gone, the only thing that will speak for us is the sentence."

For the first time, Briel stood up and spoke in court.

"Forgive me," he said. "And please forgive me, Grace. I have nothing to say in my own defense ... and Grace deserves better than that. It's my fault. I'm a coward. Forgive me."

During Briel's trial, Mann's female housemates said Briel behaved strangely just before they came home. One of the women said she received a text message from Briel asking when she and another roommate would be home. He allegedly wrote, "I was in [victim's roommate]'s room and I made a mess."

When the women arrived at the home, they found the door to that bedroom closed. The two knocked, and a sweaty, fast-talking Briel emerged.

The women then described finding Mann's body under a purple comforter; a plastic grocery bag was over her head, and several were stuffed into her mouth.

Testifying for the first time Tuesday, Briel's older sister Lauren said the family was in disbelief. They stood by the failed insanity defense, saying Briel suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

"We were hopeful that he would wind up in a mental institution, a mental hospital," his defense attorney Mark Gardner said. "I remain hopeful that he will.”

He said his client has always been remorseful and struggled to understand why it happened.

Briel's father also told the judge his son is mentally ill.

"In his reality, he was somehow fighting for his life," he said.

But the prosecution pointed to jailhouse phone calls beween Briel and his parents in which he seemed normal.

Briel’s attorney requested transcripts, suggesting they may appeal the case. Briel's defense and family say that would not be to release him but to get him proper treatment.

The prosecution said they hope “public safety” is taken into consideration.

Mann was a well-known activist on campus and helped lead a group known as Feminists United. The exact motive in the case remains unclear, but many have tried to link Mann's killing to her involvement in the group.

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