The man prosecutors say shot his friend in the head while on a methamphetamine binge in 2010 pleaded guilty to murder Monday in Muscogee Superior Court.
Judge John Allen sentenced Robert Cantelli to life in prison for the Feb. 18, 2010, slaying of Joshua Hill, whom Cantelli shot with a Russian military rifle while on an errand to buy cigarettes.
While summarizing the crime, Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly said Cantelli and his girlfriend had been using meth for days before the shooting and had planned to leave their Russell County home to spend time drying out in a Columbus hotel. They packed their things and came to Columbus, where Hill asked them to bring him some food and give him a ride to the store so he could buy cigarettes.
After buying smokes from a Shell station at 12th Avenue and 18th Street, Hill got into the front passenger's seat of Cantelli's Toyota 4Runner, which Cantelli's girlfriend Almonnie Ladd was driving. Ladd later told investigators that Cantelli, whose behavior had become increasingly erratic, began to mutter in the back seat, at one point saying, "You think this is a game, don't you?"
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Cantelli then brought out a 1940s Soviet SKS rifle, put the barrel under Hill's jaw and pulled the trigger, causing a massive head wound, Kelly said. He then pulled Hill's body into the back seat and ordered Ladd to drive to his father's house in Alabama.
Ladd bailed out of the vehicle near U.S. 431 and Alabama 165, where she heard gunshots as she fled. Kelly in court said those were Cantelli shooting Hill's body twice more, in the arm and again in the head.
Cantelli drove on to his father's house, where he showed his father Hill's body and continued to behave so oddly the father left and called 911.
That led to a chase in which Russell County sheriff's deputies eventually forced Cantelli to wreck his Toyota in a ravine at the intersection of U.S. 280 and Seale Road.
Now 34, Cantelli will be eligible for parole in 30 years. Judge Allen accepted his plea of guilty but mentally ill.
Before Cantelli's sentencing, Hill's sister told Allen the family will never recover from their loss. Cantelli also addressed the court. "To the victim's family, I am truly sorry," he said. He prayed that "one day their hearts will be healed" and they will forgive him, he said.