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Prosecutors in Pierce County argued that the brutality of Mthulisi Ndlovu's crime - the way he coldly murdered his girlfriend and then burned her body

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Mthulisi Ndlovu Earns Exceptional Sentence for Killing Girlfriend and Then Burning Her Body

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Prosecutors in Pierce County argued that the brutality of Mthulisi Ndlovu's crime - the way he coldly murdered his girlfriend and then burned her body - deserved an exceptional sentence, a sentence more severe than the sentence typically handed down to someone who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Friday, that's exactly what they got.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Katherine Stolz sentenced Ndlovu to more than 20 years in prison Friday, agreeing with the case presented by Deputy Prosecutor Fred Wist. Wist had more than enough ammunition to make his case, considering the charred remains of Ndlovu's 42-year-old girlfriend, Mary Mushapaidzi, were found inside a sealed 55-gallon metal drum in the garage of the family's Bonney Lake home, and the victim's two children -- ages eight and two - were present at the time of the murder.

"This was a brutal crime and a sad case," said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist in a statement distributed to the media. "The defendant deserved the high-end sentence he received."

Mary Mushapaidzi was originally from Zimbabwe, and worked as the manager of a retail store. She is described as a hard worker who lived frugally and sent money to her family in her native country, and was reportedly planning her first trip home in over ten years the time of her killing.

On October 9, 2011 Bonney Lake Police received a report from Ndlovu, who claimed Mushapaidzi had gone running early that morning and hadn't come back. Police responded to the couple's Bonney Lake home and noticed what's described as "a burning smell" by the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office.

Authorities quickly obtained a search warrant. Inside the home, police found blood streaks heading from, the kitchen to the garage, and inside the garage the 55-gallon drum where Ndlovu burned Mushapaidzi's body. Five empty gas cans were also recovered. Before the lid was pried off the drum, Ndlovu had told police he burned junk mail in the garage.

Authorities determined that Mushapaidzi was killed Oct. 8. From the press release:

Under questioning, the defendant eventually admitted to killing the victim during an argument. He punched her, strangled her, and struck her in the head with a pair of long handled pruning shears. After realizing she was dead, he dragged her body into the garage, put her in a metal barrel, added charcoal, and lit it on fire. An autopsy determined the victim suffered several deep lacerations to her skull that caused extensive bleeding and that she may have been alive when the defendant put her in the barrel.

That's all very, very terrible, of course. But if' it's possible to make such an act worse, Ndlovu accomplished it by doing all the aforementioned murdering and burning while the victim's two young children were at the house. Authorities say he told the children the smoke in the house was from burnt toast, and later he left the children there while he went to work.

In arguing for an exceptional sentence, prosecutors also noted that the victim's eight-year-old told police she was upstairs on the night of the murder and heard a loud banging noises below, followed by his mother's cry of "help." A neighbor reportedly heard loud thuds followed by whimpering that sounded like "a dog being beaten with a baseball bat," according to prosecutors.

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