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The pain for both the family of a slain nurse and the killer’s girlfriend were presented before a judge last week at a sentencing hearing, where the very different lives of the convicted murderer and his victim were detailed.

“He didn’t know her,”the judge said, adding that “a terrible fate” led to the killer’s “personality having contact with her.”

Moneta Jo Strickland, 32, of Mechanicsville was jogging on the Three Notch Trail in Laurel Grove on Aug. 9 last year when she was accosted and beaten to death with a rock, according to police and prosecutors. Jurors convicted John Morris Quade Jr., a 32-year-old convicted sex offender, of second-degree murder at a trial in May, and he was sentenced last week to serve 30 years in prison.

Quade, at one point charged with attempted rape in the case, made a random choice of Strickland to be his victim after he arrived in the area and went to a portion of the trail that goes through a wooded area, according to investigators and testimony at Quade’s trial. He chose someone who had gone from working as a pharmacy employee to her job as a nurse at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, and who planned to marry her fiancé in March of this year.

Thelma Strickland, her mother, sat in court last week holding notes and photographs, including one of her daughter modeling her wedding dress.

“She was on her way to being a real good person,” the mother told the judge moments later, and the tributes she read posted with an online obituary reflected how far her daughter already had gone in accomplishing that goal. Thelma Strickland noted the descriptions of her daughter as a “beautiful girl with a golden heart” and “a joy to all,” along with a Mechanicsville woman’s concerns about the safety of the trail and a “wish [that] I could have warned Moneta.”

The judge heard more from the tributes in the obituary, including from a high school classmate of the victim who worked with her at a CVS pharmacy, where they would “sing along to the songs playing within the store, using our spatulas as microphones.” A patient at the hospital wrote that she would miss “seeing her friendly face and [hearing] her friendly voice saying to me ‘OK, my name is Moneta. I will be your nurse until 7 a.m. Just push the button if you need me.’”

Henson Rara, Moneta Strickland’s fiancé, said in court that at one point he did not know if he could speak publicly about his loss, and what impact those words would have.

“Nothing I do or say here today will bring her back to me,” he said, but “It’s not about me. It’s about remembering Moneta, ... and what John Quade has taken away.”

At the end of a work day, Rara said, “She would tell me about how she made a patient smile, or laugh. Her former patients have come up to tell me what a sweet and kind person she was, and how she took care of them. Now, the world no longer will be able to experience her kindness.”

James Holt sobbed, as did the relatives seated behind him, as he stood and said of his sister, “You can’t call her. You can’t go see her. She’s not there. All we have is our memories.”

Remarks in the courtroom about Quade, by contrast, initially focused on his criminal history, specifically a presentence investigation report’s references to charges he faced as a juvenile of theft and property destruction. Quade’s lawyer said those charges were resolved at the “intake” level of the juvenile system, and the judge said they would have “not one bit of weight” in Quade’s sentencing on the murder charge.

But Quade did have prior adult convictions, as online court records state that he was sentenced in 2000 to serve 18 months in jail on a charge of committing a third-degree sexual offense.

The father of an 8-year-old girl told police that he forced open a door to a room in Oraville where he found his daughter with Quade, in February of that year, and that she alleged that Quade had been abusing her for more than a year, according to initial district court charging papers filed in the case.

Quade also was jailed for one day in 2010, online court records state, for failing, as a registered sexual offender, to notify authorities of a change of his address.

Quade’s failure to report a new job at a restaurant served as a pretext for a detective to question him last August about Strickland’s death.

During the trial, the jurors heard a recording of the detective’s extensive conversation with Quade, who ultimately acknowledged getting into an argument with Strickland before he claimed he blacked out, and woke up next to her body and a bloody rock. Quade told detective Cpl. William Raddatz that he buried the body with leaves, threw the rock deep into the woods, took the woman’s cellphone home and destroyed it in a fire.

Gerald J. Riviello, Quade’s lawyer, spoke in court last Thursday about his client’s difficulties in getting the continuous help he needed for mental issues. “He didn’t have any insurance,” the lawyer said. “He was at the mercy ... of what services were available to him.”

Kristina Ciezobka, identifying herself as Quade’s girlfriend, stood in the courtroom and said, “He’s not a monster. He’s a loving person. He’s a wonderful father.”

She added, “He needs care. He’s been begging the state for help for years.”

Toward the end of the hearing, Quade stood at the defense table to acknowledge that what had happened was “horrible,” and he also talked about his difficulties dealing with his mental health issues. “I reached out for help,” he said, “to no avail.”

He concluded his remarks with, “May God have mercy on my soul.”

St. Mary’s Circuit Judge David W. Densford said, “I’ve never seen a stronger group of friends and family than Ms. Strickland has. She was part of the rich tapestry of the people who make this county work.”

As for Quade, the judge noted the presentence investigation report’s reference to his not being able to get his medication after a facility abruptly closed, during the period leading up to Strickland’s death.

Having access to that medication “may not have prevented this, but it may have,” the judge said before sentencing Quade to the 30-year prison term, the maximum penalty for second-degree murder, and recommending that he be housed in a rehabilitative prison facility.

“You are one of the most dangerous people I have ever seen,” the judge said. “You have an explosive personality that you cannot control. You are everybody’s nightmare.”

Quade must serve at least half of his sentence before any parole consideration.

Jurors acquitted Quade at his trial of robbery and the most serious count in his indictment, a charge of first-degree murder.

“I still wish it was the first-degree” conviction, Thelma Strickland said as she left the courtroom. “I really do.”

“We got as much as we could,” St. Mary’s Assistant State’s Attorney Richard D. Fritz (R) said as he hugged her.

jwharton@somdnews.com