Judge imposes 95-year prison sentence on a woman who murdered her girlfriend in New Jersey

FREEHOLD, New Jersey -- A judge has imposed a 95-year prison sentence on a woman convicted of arranging to have her girlfriend shot and later strangling and burying her in the backyard of a New Jersey home.

"It is difficult to imagine a more heinous scheme of manipulation and cold-hearted depravity over four months than that orchestrated by Jennifer Sweeney,'' Monmouth County Superior Court Judge David Bauman said in sentencing the 38-year-old defendant Friday.

Authorities said 41-year-old Tyrita Julius was wounded in a shooting two days before Thanksgiving in 2015. In March of the following year, her mother reported her missing. In August 2016, her body was found buried in the yard of a Long Branch home.

The resident of the home was 38-year-old Andre Harris, who authorities said was the gunman in the earlier shooting. He reached a plea deal and testified against Sweeney, saying she had threatened to kill his children if he didn't shoot Julius, whom he didn't know. He said Sweeney was jealous and believed Julius was cheating on her.

Sweeney was convicted in September of murder, conspiracy, attempted murder and weapons counts as well as evidence-tampering and desecration of human remains. Monmouth County prosecutors said Friday that she must serve at least 85% of both the 75-year life term for the murder and the 20-year term for the shooting.

Defense attorney Robin Lord said his client "loved the victim very much and maintains her innocence,'' the Asbury Park Press reported. He argued unsuccessfully for a sentence of no more than 30 years.

Harris apologized before he was sentenced in a separate hearing Friday to 16 years in prison.

"I'm so sorry for what I've done,'' Harris said to relatives and friends of the victim. "I don't know what to say. I'm asking for you to forgive me.''

At Sweeney's sentencing, the victim's mother, Queen Julius, wept as she said her daughter "left this world by nightmarish circumstances'' that she plays out daily in her her mind.

"I will forever be heartbroken," she said. "She was my child, my only daughter.''

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