KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Hayden Berkebile, an Indiana man convicted of criminally negligent homicide, was sentenced to two years in prison on Friday.
Prosecutors said Berkebile encouraged Grace Anne Sparks to shoot herself in the head for his 'sexual release.' A jury convicted Berkebile after a two-day trial in May.
"The defendant would masturbate to the idea that the victim was pointing a gun at herself," said the prosecutor.
The court heard victim impact statements from Sparks' parents, grandmother and uncle.
Sparks' family members and the prosecution asked for Berkebile to be sentenced to the maximum sentence allowed under the law, two years in prison, and Judge Sword agreed.
"I could sit here and tell you about being terrified to go to sleep," Sparks' dad said. "Because rather than peace and rest, you're going to have nightmares."
Sword said he felt a longer sentence would have been appropriate, but said he could only hand down the maximum sentence allowed by state law. He encouraged Sparks' family to advocate for harsher penalties for future convictions.
"I believe this case as well as others could be a springboard to get the law changed for this type of online abusive behavior," he said.
Because Berkebile doesn't have a criminal record, Judge Sword said he will serve 30% of his sentence in prison, equivalent to 7 months and 6 days. Berkebile has already served 91 days in prison.
However, Berkebile's lawyer indicated he will be appealing the conviction and asked for an appellate bond.
Judge Sword set the appellate bond at $25,000 and made him eligible to bond out, under the conditions that he has no access to the internet and establishes a residence in Knox County so he can be supervised by the pre-trial program in Knox County.
The judge said, however, that Berkebile's time served in prison may be over before the appeal is heard and he may choose to serve rather than bonding out before an appeal under those stiff conditions.
Berkebile spoke briefly before his sentencing.
"Through my negligence, we lost one of the brightest lights in the world," he said.
In the trial, prosecutors said Berkebile groomed Sparks for years and preyed on her when she was most vulnerable.
Proof from the trial said they began their online relationship when Sparks was 13, and both connected over mutual suicidal ideations.
On September 29, messages between Berkebile and Sparks showed he encouraged her to pull the trigger. The two began a video chat, playing Russian Roulette.
The state autopsy revealed Sparks' cause of death to be a gunshot wound to the head.
Sparks' family emphasized she did not want to die. They said she trusted Berkebile to not let her die while they played Russian Roulette.