Originally Published: May 15, 2014 6 a.m.
A northern Arizona man convicted of killing a teenager in retaliation for a burglary maintained his innocence as he was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of early release.
A Coconino County Superior Court judge on Tuesday sentenced John Willis, 54, of Williams for the 2013 shooting death of Manuel Navallez, 17, of Ash Fork.
Prosecutors contended the killing was revenge because the teenager and two friends had broken into a home of friends of Willis and stolen jewelry so they could buy marijuana.
The defense contended during the trial that Willis was an innocent man being prosecuted with flimsy evidence and contradictory statements by a key prosecution witness.
Willis told the victim's family in court Tuesday that he was innocent and that the true killer remains at large, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.
"I didn't kill your son," Willis said. "I know how you feel. I'm an innocent man standing here. The only thing you got me on is characteristics of tire tracks. The dates are wrong. The tape is wrong." He added, "I would help you find the one who done it, so help me God."
However, Judge Cathleen Brown Nichols said she agreed with prosecutors that the crime was a cold-blooded murder.
"What the defendant did in this case was cruel. It was depraved. It was heinous," Nichols said. "To take a 17-year old boy out in the woods and shoot him in the back of the head execution-style is cold-blooded."
Willis' defense attorney, Joseph Carver, said that he planned to appeal the case because the minimum sentence of life in prison stripped the judge of the discretion to issue a lighter sentence.