AUGUSTA — The man who killed Jillian T. Jones by stabbing her 12 times — twice through the neck — will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

Justin Pillsbury, now 41, formerly of Augusta and Benton, was sentenced Thursday at the Capital Judicial Center to 50 years in prison in connection with the murder of his girlfriend, Jones, on Nov. 13, 2013. He was convicted March 17 in the same courthouse.

Pillsbury testified at his jury trial in March that he acted in self-defense, stabbing 24-year-old Jones only after she came after him with a knife. He claimed Jones cut him above the eye and on the hand and forearm as he tried to disarm her that evening during an argument over her cellphone.

Pillsbury said at trial he had been drinking most of the day, was intoxicated during the attack and said he “didn’t intend to kill the love of my life.”

On Thursday, he apologized to her family and her friends, many of whom were sitting in the courtroom.

“For every person in this room with a tear in their eye, I put it there and I accept responsibility,” Pillsbury said.

“I’m so sorry that I killed Jillian,” he said, half-turning to Jones’ family in the courtroom. “On that night I made a tragic mistake.”

The prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber, recommended Pillsbury be imprisoned for 55 years. Defense attorney Stephen Smith, in his sentencing memo submitted to the court, recommended a 30-year term.

Jones’ body was found slumped against the bathroom wall in a Crosby Street apartment in Augusta rented by Michael St. Pierre. Pillsbury and Jones, who grew up in Bingham, had been staying there so Pillsbury could be closer to his job in Augusta. Jillian Jones was attending beauty school in Waterville at the time of her death.

“I can only imagine the fear that she felt as she stood on the other side of that bathroom door, knowing that her life was about to end,” Macomber said.

Laura Jones, Jillian Jones’ mother, spoke of Jillian Jones in the present tense as she described her, saying, “I believe she is alive and well in heaven.”

She said Jillian Jones had struggled with depression and substance abuse, but was ready to move forward, excelling at cosmetology school to be able to support herself and her daughter, Brooklyn. Brooklyn, now 6 years old, is to be adopted soon by Laura and Danny Jones, Jillian Jones’ parents, Laura Jones said.

Jocelyn Jones, two years older than her sister Jillian, described her as “an incredible mom, a loyal friend, a loving sister, daughter, auntie and granddaughter.”

Jocelyn Jones told the judge she is still in pain from the loss of her sister.

“When I was told how Justin murdered my sister, my pain intensified,” she said. “I hate that she was alone. The fear she must have felt is unimaginable and continues to haunt me. And then when I realized the missed call I had from her at 8 p.m. the night before was just a few minutes before she took her last breath, I lost it.”

She paused several times during her remarks, overcome by sobs.

GRANTING FORGIVENESS

Danny Jones, Jillian Jones’ father, said he had spoken with Pillsbury only once. That was on July 4, 2013, four months before the killing.

“Justin came downstairs and said to me, word for word, ‘Mr. Jones, I just want you to know I would never do anything to hurt your daughter,'” he said.

Laura Jones told the judge, “I pray daily for the grace to forgive the unforgivable.”

Jillian Jones’ oldest brother, Jeremy Jones, said the holidays are difficult for his family, as are celebrations of other milestones.

“All of those days were taken from us by an insecure man who supposedly loved Jill,” Jeremy Jones said. He said faith in God has helped the mourners cope.

“Jilli had forgiven so many people that have wronged and hurt her, and I know in my heart that she would forgive him today if she was still here,” he said.

Jeremy Jones said he has forgiven Pillsbury as well.

Pillsbury stabbed himself in the neck shortly after stabbing Jones, and St. Pierre testified — under a grant of immunity from the state — that he had helped sharpen the knife for Pillsbury before seeking help.

At his trial, Pillsbury said, “At that point I was overcome with grief — not guilt, grief.”

Pillsbury’s sister, Eliza Darlene Alborano Cochran, told the judge that her brother has expressed remorse and shown he’s trying to improve himself while in prison.

She said she will move back to Maine to be part of his support system, and “I’ll be here for his sons.”

The two boys were in the courtroom watching Thursday’s hearing but did not speak to the judge. Smith said Pillsbury hopes they learn from it.

CRIME AND TRAGEDY

Macomber, the prosecutor, told the jury at trial that Pillsbury was jealous of Jones’ interactions with other men. He said Pillsbury had taken Jones’ cellphone to see whom she had been communicating with, and Jones fought him to get it back when the dispute turned deadly.

On Thursday, Justice Michaela Murphy told those in the courtroom that she recognized that any sentence she imposed would essentially mean life in prison for Pillsbury because of his age, at 41.

“What happened was a tragedy, not a crime,” Smith, the defense attorney, said after the sentencing hearing. He said there will be an appeal of both the conviction and the sentencing. “Justin accepted responsibility for killing her; he didn’t murder her.”

Also outside the courthouse, Macomber said the 50 years was “a very significant sentence,” just five years short of what the prosecution had sought.

“Our heart goes out to the Jones family,” he said. “I think the court recognized how important their testimony was to bring the true Jillian to the public.”

Before any of her family members spoke to the judge, a silent video of numerous pictures of a smiling and sometimes playful Jillian with family and friends was played on the two large television monitors in the courtroom as well as on monitors on the judge’s bench and at the attorneys’ tables. Pillsbury watched as the photos came up one after the other, interspersed with an occasional quotation from the Bible. Macomber, who introduced it, said it was played at Jillian Jones’ funeral.

As the video played, members of Jones’ family dabbed at their eyes with tissues.

After the sentencing hearing, Macomber said the case involved both extreme cruelty on Pillsbury’s part and domestic violence.

“This (highlights) why we have to eliminate domestic violence in our state,” Macomber said.

To Smith’s description of Pillsbury admitting “killing” Jones rather than “murdering” her, Macomber said, “You can flip a coin to describe how Mr. Pillsbury feels. There was the early stage of remorse, then on the stand he blamed Jillian Jones for her own death; now he’s sorry.

“We’ll see which side of the coin falls when he takes an appeal.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams