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Man gets 32 year prison sentence for iPhone murder

Prince Wats(left)  Sally Katona-King (right) Lutheran deacpushed down flight stairs North Side CTA station.

Prince Watson (left) and Sally Katona-King (right), a Lutheran deacon pushed down a flight of stairs at a North Side CTA station.

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Updated: April 13, 2013 2:35AM

Sally Katona-King lost her life because a teenager valued a trendy iPhone more than the elderly woman’s well-being, Katona-King’s daughter told a Cook County judge Friday.

With tears in her eyes, and often pausing to collect her emotions, Kimberly Katona described her 68-year-old mother as a survivor whose life was full of adversity.

The mother of three grew up so poor she often didn’t have food to eat, her daughter said. Katona-King also survived polio, and was forced to identify a man who sexually assaulted her at the age of 8.

“She was a genuine, creative spirit who not only managed to survive, but she made her life good, despite the adversities,” Katona told Judge James Linn.

Katona spoke just before Linn sentenced Prince Watson to 32 years in prison for Katona-King’s murder, as well as two additional CTA Brown Line station iPhone robberies he committed weeks after the highly-publicized death.

Watson, who said he stole the iPhones and sold them to support himself, pleaded guilty to the charges on Friday as part of a plea deal.

Katona-King, a Lutheran deacon, was pushed to her death by Watson as he raced down a crowded flight of stairs with a stolen iPhone at the Brown Line Fullerton station on March 28, 2011. Katona-King tumbled down the stairs and as a result, suffered a broken nose, fractured clavicle and ribs and cerebral bleeding. She died at the hospital a day later.

In her statement Friday, Katona painted her mother as having a heart of gold, dedicating herself to many charities, and cooking meals for the homeless. She loved planning birthdays and family celebrations and was known as the “cake lady,” for her dessert baking and decorating skills, Katona said as her two siblings looked on.

Watson, 19, didn’t speak at the hearing, but his attorney, assistant public defender Susan Smith, read a letter he wrote, in which he expressed hope that Katona-King’s family forgave him.

Initially, Watson, who was raised by his grandmother in the notorious Cabrini-Green housing project, said it “hurt in my heart” that he was described as a “cold blooded murderer” in the press.

However, now, Watson said in his letter, “I understand what I did was wrong...I know I deserve punishment.

I know I hurt your family...I’m sorry for putting everyone through this. I never wanted to hurt anyone.”

Watson’s attorney described her young client’s life as being full of tragedy.

He was born with a .28 blood alcohol level because his mother drank gin for breakfast, Smith said, and opiates were also found in his system upon birth. Watson found his mother dead of an overdose at the age of 3, and his sister was later murdered. His brother is in prison awaiting trial for an armed robbery.

Before the sentencing, Linn addressed the rough life Watson endured.

“I acknowledge his life was ridiculously difficult and almost impossible to imagine,” Linn said.

Still, the judge said it was “troubling” that Watson insisted on engaging in criminal behavior even after he knew he killed someone.

“I find that to be very, very disturbing, very, very troubling,” Linn said.

Watson’s 78-year-old grandmother, Mattie Ashford said her “upset” grandson called her earlier in the week to tell her about the plea deal.

“I felt bad the lady died, but he didn’t have to do what he did,” Ashford told the Sun-Times following Friday’s sentencing hearing. “That was a bad thing to do. He didn’t have any business there, doing what he did.”

Upon his arrest for Katona-King’s murder, Watson confessed to police that after he stole the iPhone, “he bumped into two ladies who were in his way.” He said also said he heard screams but didn’t turn around because he didn’t want anyone to see his face, prosecutors said at the time.

Less than two months after Katona-King’s death, Watson robbed a commuter of an iPhone on the Red Line stop at Clark and Division In that robbery, the victim chased down Watson and he was arrested. He pleaded guilty and received a four-year prison sentence.

On Friday, Watson also admitted to robbing iPhones in two other Brown Line related incidents.

Watson grabbed a commuter’s iPhone but ended up dropping it as he was chased by witnesses in the April 6, 2011 incident at the Brown Line’s Armitage station.

Eleven days later, he pried a female victim’s iPhone from her hands at the Brown Line’s Sedgwick station

That robbery, as well as CTA surveillance video and witness’ accounts, led detectives to Watson’s August 2011 arrest for Katona-King’s murder.

In the letter Smith read in court Friday, Watson said he thought his method of stealing iPhones was the safest and quickest way to grab the popular electronics without hurting anyone.

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