Attorney Jon Van Arkel and defendant Elizabeth McKeown at the June trial. (Photo by Nathan Papes/Springfield News-Leader via media pool)

Circuit Judge Michael J. Cordonnier Friday sentenced Elizabeth McKeown, 49, to life in prison without possibility of parole for the murder of Barbara Foster, whom McKeown ran over on Campbell Avenue at West University Street in 2018.

Cordonnier explained it was the only sentence he could impose because the Missouri Legislature has set by law that anyone 18 or older convicted of murder in the first degree must receive the sentence of life without parole.

This was not a death-penalty case.

Foster’s daughter and three of Foster’s granddaughters spoke in court Friday. A fourth granddaughter, who lives out of state, submitted a victim-impact statement.

Victim’s family addresses court, McKeown

It gave the women an opportunity to address the judge and McKeown, but their words could have no impact on the sentence.

“This woman murdered my mother, my best friend, my rock, with no remorse,” said Amber Sahagun in court. “Not only did she kill my mother, but she killed a part of every one of us who loved her.”

One of Foster’s granddaughters said she was pregnant when Foster was murdered in 2018. Because of McKeown’s actions, she said, her child will never know Foster’s love.

“I know this is the part where I’m supposed to say I forgive her, but I won’t, and I don’t think I ever will,” she said.

Jury found McKeown guilty in June

A jury of 10 women and two men found McKeown guilty in June after two days of deliberating.

Jon Van Arkel, McKeown’s defense lawyer, had presented the unusual defense that she did not know right from wrong because a toxic level of a drug found in cough syrup had built up in her system.

Evidence showed McKeown’s liver was incapable of normally processing dextromethorphan, or DXM, which is commonly used in cough syrup.

Van Arkel said in court Friday he would appeal the conviction because in his view jurors did not follow the law and ignored what he called uncontested expert testimony that McKeown did not know right from wrong and did not know her liver was unable to metabolize DXM.

Randomness of murder was shocking

Prosecutor Emily Shook, first assistant prosecuting attorney, said Friday the community was shocked by the murder.

First Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Greene County Emily Shook at the June trial. (Photo by Nathan Papes/ Springfield News-Leader via media pool)

“People who have nothing to do with the criminal justice system remember this case,” Shook said. “It was so random, and it touches people.”

It’s the randomness, she said, that is haunting.

“That means that none of us can feel safe in our community,” Shook said.

McKeown and Foster did not know each other.

McKeown told police she was in a hurry and stuck in traffic behind Foster at a red light at West Sunshine Street at 5:15 p.m. Nov. 20, 2018. She first nudged Foster’s van to get her to move, but Foster also was stuck in traffic.

McKeown told police she ‘tricked’ Foster

When Foster exited her vehicle to see what was happening, McKeown said, she ran her over.

McKeown told police she pretended to be nice and “tricked” Foster into exiting her vehicle and then “cut her in two” by running her over.

She told investigators that she was in a rush to get to the bank to make a car payment. It was at 5:15 p.m.

McKeown behaved bizarrely when questioned by police.

The first officer to confront McKeown after the death was Justin Lloyd, who testified that when he asked her where her identification was, she said, “Up your butt and around the corner, officer.”

Uber driver had captured video of murder

At trial, prosecutor Emily Shook, first assistant prosecuting attorney, had told jurors in her closing argument that “words matter,” and urged them to focus on what McKeown told police in the hours following the death.

After the verdict in June, Shook described to the Springfield Daily Citizen what she thought was the strength of the case.

“We had a video,” Shook said. “We had her statements that matched up with that video. Her recollection of what happened was exactly depicted on that video.”

The video was captured by an Uber driver who was nearby when Foster was killed. The driver testified at trial.

Victim to do volunteer work that day

Foster, a native of California, was 57. She worked at Eyeglass World on Battlefield Road. Her mother attended the trial.

One of the granddaughters said in court Friday that she had kissed Foster goodbye that morning. Foster was scheduled to do volunteer work at an eye clinic that day.

“She was a woman who had shared her home with four girls for 13 years,” the granddaughter said.

McKeown declines to express remorse

McKeown chose not to speak in court Friday, passing up an opportunity to directly express remorse to Foster’s family.

Defendant Elizabeth McKeown at the June trial. (Photo by Nathan Papes/Springfield News-Leader via media pool)

Instead, Van Arkel spoke and said his client was remorseful.

He also said McKeown had no criminal history other than writing a bad check over 15 years ago and that the sole reason for her actions that day was the buildup of DXM in her system.

Testimony at trial indicated McKeown was a recovering alcoholic who had been sober for three to five years. She did not take the witness stand in the trial.

Other sentencing factors no longer matter

Video of her being interviewed three times by Police Detective Matt Farmer was played in court. Her actions and words often were bizarre and inappropriate.

When Farmer asked her what her name was she made a series of noncoherent noises.

Judge Cordonnier said that prior to Missouri lawmakers taking sentencing discretion from judges in murder-in-the-first-degree convictions, he would consider factors such as the likelihood of rehabilitation, restitution and protecting society from future criminal conduct.

None of that applies now, he said.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin