Originally created 02/03/00

Leslie gets life sentence plus twenty years



Lori Hastings' family and friends expressed no malice toward the man sentenced Wednesday to spend the rest of his life behind bars for her murder.

They just wanted to know why Ms. Hastings, a 30-year-old nurse and mother of four, was burned to death. And they wanted the man convicted of doing that horrible crime, Sajid Leslie, to ask God for forgiveness, they said Wednesday.

"My loss is great, and it's a terrible thing that happened," said Ms. Hastings father, Leonard Hastings. "I have no malice toward him. I just want to say to him, `I forgive you for what you did ... and that you need to ask God to forgive you for what you've done."'

Last month in Richmond County Superior Court, a jury convicted Mr. Leslie, 29, of murder and arson in the April 22 burning death of Ms. Hastings. Her charred remains were discovered in her burning vehicle, found in an isolated parking area off Regency Boulevard. The autopsy revealed she was alive when the fire began.

Assistant District Attorney Willie Saunders asked Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. to sentence Mr. Leslie to the maximum possible, life plus 20 years, consecutive. The judge did so.

"I can think of no more gruesome type of crime than this burning," Mr. Saunders said. "Speak of malice ... malice was fulfilled in this particular case.

"He had to pour that gasoline in the car while she was there ... light a match, and throw it in the car, and he then just walked away," Mr. Saunders said.

Given the chance Wednesday, those who spoke for Ms. Hastings talked not of malice but of Christian charity.

"I have no malice," said Levon R. Joe Jr., whom Mr. Leslie's defense attorneys tried to tarnish as a prime suspect in Ms. Hastings' murder. Mr. Joe, however, had a verifiable alibi for the night she died -- he was working miles away. Mr. Joe was Ms. Hastings' ex-husband and the father of two of her children.

"I want to know why it happened, and my kids want to know why, and I have no answers for them."

Ms. Hastings' best friend, Stephanie Harrison, also pleaded for a reason.

"In order for God to forgive him, he is going to have to admit what he did. I hope you got God in you life as well," she said.

Defense attorney Tony Axam whispered to Mr. Leslie for a minute or two before making a statement Wednesday. Mr. Axam then said he had Mr. Leslie's permission to speak on his behalf.

"He still maintains he did not do this," Mr. Axam said.

Mr. Axam praised Ms. Hastings' family for showing such forgiveness. And although Mr. Leslie understood their questions, he could not answer because an appeal is possible, the attorney said.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226.