NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – An East Coast drifter who killed seven people in Connecticut in 2003 and drove a van he called the "murder mobile" was sentenced Friday to life in prison.
A state judge handed down six consecutive life sentences to William Devin Howell during an emotional hearing where victims' relatives spoke about how the killings devastated their lives. Howell pleaded guilty to murder charges in September.
"He stripped away the youth from us and made me and my brother orphans," said Tiffany Menard, daughter of victim Mary Jane Menard.
She called Howell a "monster" and said she tried to kill herself two times after her mother disappeared.
Howell is believed to be the most prolific serial killer in Connecticut history — not counting mass shootings. The seven killings topped the Connecticut body count of serial killer Michael Ross, who killed six women in eastern Connecticut and two in New York, and was executed in 2005.
The 47-year-old Howell, from Hampton, Virginia, cried and apologized to the victims' families during the hearing, saying he deserved the death penalty and his acts were "monstrous, cowardly and selfish." The state Supreme Court abolished Connecticut's death penalty in 2015.
"I know what awaits me ... a slow painful death in prison," said Howell, who talked about his diabetes and possible limb amputation and organ failure in the future. "I hope that provides some comfort to each of the families."
The bodies of all seven of Howell's victims were found buried in a wooded area behind a strip mall in New Britain, about 15 miles southwest of Hartford.
Three bodies were found in 2007, and the other remains were discovered in 2015, when authorities went back to the site.
All seven victims disappeared in 2003, when Howell was mowing lawns and working other odd jobs. They were identified as Mary Jane Menard, 40, of New Britain; Joyvaline Martinez, 24, of East Hartford; Diane Cusack, 53, of New Britain; Melanie Ruth Camilini, 29, of Seymour; Marilyn Gonzalez, 26, of Waterbury; Danny Lee Whistnant, 44, of New Britain; and Nilsa Arizmendi, 33, of Wethersfield.
Howell was arrested in May 2005 in Hampton, Virginia, in connection with Arizmendi's death and later pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
He sexually assaulted three of the women and kept one of the bodies in his van for two weeks, sleeping next to the body and calling the victim his "baby," according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
Howell told a cellmate there was a monster inside him and described himself as a "sick ripper," according to the warrant.
He also told the fellow inmate he kept one of women's bodies wrapped up in his van because it was too cold outside to bury her, the warrant said. He said he cut off the tips of her fingers, dismantled her bottom jaw and disposed of the body parts in Virginia, the document said.
Authorities said they found blood in the van that matched the blood of one of the victims, along with videotapes of Howell having sex with women.
Police said a main connection among most of the victims was their use of drugs.
Howell called the burial site his "garden" and said the victims should have known they were going to die because of the lifestyles they led, the warrant said.