A judge sentenced a Roxboro man to nearly 37 years in state prison on Friday after he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2016 death of Nola Bentley.
Judge James Hardin Jr. told Sherrod Avery Stewart, 38, that his history of violence made it hard for him to show any leniency in the case.
“This looks bad. There’s really no getting around that,” Hardin told Stewart.
Hardin handed down his sentence after a brief hearing in which Stewart pleaded guilty without a trial. Hardin also heard from Bentley’s sister, Betsy Bentley, who broke down in tears at times as she described the loss her family had suffered.
“When we first got the call, we thought this was someone playing a sick, cruel joke, she told Hardin. “But we knew it was real when we kept trying to call her cell phone and she didn’t answer,” Betsy Bentley said. “We lost so much more than a mother and daughter and sister and friend.”
Betsy Bentley noted that her sister left behind five children, all of whom were seated in the front of the courtroom Friday morning. As Betsy Bentley spoke, another dozen family members sat in the gallery, all wearing white T-shirts with the word “justice” handwritten on the shirts. Assistant District Attorney Holly McAdams told Hardin family members had come to Roxboro this week to seek justice from as far away as Ohio and Bentley’s native state of New York.
According to news accounts at the time, on Feb. 8, 2016, Stewart stabbed Bentley 16 times during an altercation at her home on Sandstone Way off Hurdle Mills Road. Reports indicated that Stewart and Nola Bentley had been involved in a romantic relationship.
Stewart fled the scene after the murder, but a witness in the home at the time of the attack identified him. Stewart turned himself in to Roxboro police about 24 hours later.
On Friday, Stewart apologized to the family.
“I know it won’t bring her back, but I want you to know I’m sorry,” Stewart said.
Nola Bentley’s father, James Bentley Sr., was among those in the courtroom on Friday to listen to the proceedings. Outside the courtroom he said he had mixed feelings about the judge’s sentence.
“At least he won’t be able to spend any time with his family like I won’t be able to spend time with my daughter,” Bentley Sr. said of Stewart. “But at the same time, he got credit for all the time he’s been in jail waiting on a trial. I’m not happy about that.”
Stewart’s guilty plea came three years to the day after the murder took place.