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A life sentence

By 12:15 p.m. Wednesday the nightmarish case that gripped the Ironton community for the past 15 months was over after the man accused of setting his estranged wife on fire admitted he committed that violent act.

Six times Thomas Wilcox answered Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Cooper with the word, “guilty,” in a voice often barely audible to the gallery.

Now Wilcox, 39, will spend the rest of his life in an Ohio prison for the murder. That was the sentence from Cooper, who rejected the minimum recommendation from the state that Wilcox face possible parole after serving 45 years.

On April 29, 2009, Amy Wilcox was attacked by her estranged husband while sleeping in bed at her Perry Township home. Gasoline was poured on her and then ignited.

She died about two months later in the burn unit at a Cincinnati hospital.

Days after the crime Wilcox was arrested and then later indicted for aggravated murder, aggravated arson, aggravated burglary and child endangerment with death penalty specifications. He faced six felony counts.

In a plea deal that the family of Amy Wilcox agreed to, the death penalty was taken off the table in order to get the guilty plea.

The decision to remove the death penalty came “after much consultation with Amy’s family,” Paul Scarsella, lead prosecutor, told the court. “They understand the decision and are in agreement.”

Scarsella, an assistant attorney general, was assigned the case after the Lawrence County prosecutor’s office recused itself.

“It is our understanding (the plea) is Mr. Wilcox’s intention,” Greg Meyers, lead counsel for Wilcox, told Cooper. Meyers and Jerry McHenry, both from the Ohio Public Defender’s Office, took over the case in May after Wilcox fired his initial public defenders, Charles Knight and William Eachus. No public reason was given for the firing.

As Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless and Chief Deputy Jeff Hitchcock led Wilcox away, Meyers said eliminating the death penalty was a major factor in his client’s decision.

“That is very important,” Meyers said.

Also Wilcox didn’t want to pursue a trial to spare his children, the attorney said.

That was also a reason cited by the state. Scarsella added that considering Wilcox’s age, the state’s minimum recommendation was tantamount to a life in prison sentence.

It was an emotional hearing for both families. About two-dozen members and supporters of Amy Wilcox’s family filled the back two rows of the courtroom including her mother, stepfather and her two children.

Many were crying as they came down the hallway to Cooper’s courtroom.

Two members of Thomas Wilcox’s family sat on the front row of the courtroom, somber, declining comment afterwards.

Before sentencing, Scarsella gave a recitation of the facts of the case stating Emily was in bed with her mother when her father came into the room. The young girl was told to leave. Soon she heard her mother screaming and found the bedroom fully engulfed.

She was told by her father to get her older brother, Trevor, and leave the house. She then saw her father leave.

The only statement made by Amy Wilcox’s family came from a written statement from her mother, Kay, which was read to the court by Scarsella.

“Amy was a dear daughter and mother,” Scarsella red. “She was loved by everyone. The loss of my daughter is beyond words. Our family is forever broken. … It is the request of our family that Tom Wilcox receive the maximum penalty.”l.