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HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — A Maryland judge sentenced a homeless heroin addict to life imprisonment Wednesday for killing a woman who had given him shelter but then threatened to expose him for stealing several hundred dollars from two businesses.

The judge also recommended that Anthony Michael Minnick, 27, be referred to a state correctional treatment center, the Patuxent Institution, which could recommend him for parole if he is accepted into and completes a treatment program that typically ranges from five to seven years, according to an agency budget document.

Minnick would otherwise have little hope of freedom under Maryland’s “life means life” policy, Washington County Assistant Public Defender Amy Taylor said.

An inmate sentenced to life would probably not be sent to Patuxent until well into his sentence, and would still need the governor’s approval for parole, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Gerard Shields said.

The sentence capped a crowded and emotional, 90-minute hearing in which Minnick’s family members and two pastors portrayed him as a good-hearted man gripped by a terrible addiction. Even Deputy State’s Attorney Joseph Michael acknowledged, “This is an unqualified tragedy all around.”

Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long agreed. But he also said the victim, 55-year-old Sonya Smith, probably hoped for mercy just before Minnick shot her three times in the face with a .22-caliber, semi-automatic rifle.

“You took that life, and there are consequences for that action,” Long said.

Minnick apologized to Smith’s family and his own.

“I let heroin take over my life and I made horrible, horrible decisions,” he said.

Smith was killed the night of May 31 in a rural home she was house-sitting for her absent boyfriend, a friend of Minnick’s, near Smithsburg, about 75 miles northwest of Baltimore. Afterward, Minnick fled with Smith’s cellphone and a large stereo speaker from the house.

Minnick committed the retail thefts earlier that day, grabbing cash from the registers of a gas station and a dollar store. He told police that Smith recognized him as the robbery suspect from store surveillance images police had released.

Police arrested Minnick for the retail thefts June 1, after family members identified him as the suspect. Smith’s body was found June 2 by police checking her home at her sister’s request.