It was the afternoon of Oct. 5, 2015, when Steve Carter, a 67-year-old tantric yoga instructor, told his wife, Lokita Carter, that he was going out for a hike on a nearby trail.
They had been staying with friends in Northern California, having returned to the U.S. six weeks earlier from Costa Rica, where they retired, so Lokita could seek treatment for breast cancer.
Steve headed out that day accompanied by their Doberman pinscher, Coco.
“We hugged, and that was it — and he drove away and never came back,” Lokita tells PEOPLE.
She says her husband texted her at 6 p.m. about going to a meditation class, but she declined. She fell asleep at 7:30 p.m. and woke up at 3 a.m. the next morning to an empty bed.
A few minutes later, she heard a knock on her bedroom door.
“My friends were standing there, and they said, ‘Lokita you better come downstairs, there are five police here,’ ” she recalls.
As she remembers it, the officers told her, “‘Mrs. Carter we have some unfortunate news.’ ” All the while, she says, “There I was bald-headed, going through chemotherapy.”
A cyclist had found Steve’s dead body along a well-traveled hiking trial in the Loma Alta Open Space Preserve just north of Fairfax, California. He’d been fatally shot.
“That was the beginning of 562 days of continuous nightmare,” Lokita says.
On Tuesday — 18 months later — a judge in Marin County, California, sentenced her husband’s killers to prison.
As Lokita would later learn, Steve was not the only victim.
A Pair of Slayings, Days Apart
Three people — all drifters — pleaded guilty in February in connection with Steve’s death: The 24-year-old triggerman, Morrison Haze Lampley, was sentenced to 100 years to life in prison. His 19-year-old girlfriend, Lila Alligood, got 50 years to life. (Authorities say she did not fire the gun.)
A third defendant, 25-year-old Sean Angold, was given 15 years to life after he testified against the couple during a preliminary hearing.
Alligood and Lampley pleaded guilty to first-degree murder; Angold pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Alligood and Lampley also pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of 23-year-old Canadian backpacker Audrey Carey in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in October 2015, soon before Steve was killed.
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Carey was discovered dead on Oct. 3, 2015, after the first day of the three-day Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. The tourist from Quebec was on her first solo backpacking trip and had planned to travel to Europe.
During the preliminary hearing, Angold testified that he, Alligood and Lampley befriended Carey after they stole a gun from an unlocked truck parked in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf area.
Though they were nice to her at first, they chose to rob her because “she was foreign and possibly had money,” Angold previously said in court, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Angold testified that after Alligood jumped Carey, Lampley pointed a gun at her head.
As Angold was attempting to tie up Carey’s legs, he heard the sound of a gunshot, he said — and then Lampley saying, “She’s dead, dude. Don’t worry about it,” the Chronicle reports.
Two days later, Steve Carter was found dead. His dog, Coco, had also been shot but survived.
“She was shot in the eye,” Lokita tells PEOPLE. “She got a prosthetic jaw because her jaw was shattered. She was shot once at close range. It was the actions of a very disturbed, sad man. It is just so cold-blooded and violent and evil.”
Lokita says Coco was still standing when the paramedics arrived, and Steve was still clinging to her leash.
The three transients — who had aspirations to start a pot farm — were arrested on Oct. 7, 2015, in Portland, Oregon, after officials used GPS technology to locate Steve’s stolen car.
“They could have just asked him for the car,” says Lokita, who is now cancer-free. “He was the kind of person who would have gladly given them the car. They could have easily overpowered him.”
“My husband was 67. Just rob him and leave him,” she continues. “It could have been much easier for them and would have saved Steve’s life and saved all of us so much heartache, grief and pain. But they didn’t.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, Carey’s mother, Isabelle Tremblay, reportedly described the defendants as “unspeakable monsters,” according to the Chronicle.
“She trusted you … and you stole her from me,” she said in a statement read by the prosecution.
“You are proof that evil exists,” she said.
(PEOPLE’s attempts to reach Carey’s family Wednesday were unsuccessful, and officials say her mother was too upset to attend the sentencing.)
The three defendants also all shared statements with the court. “I would like to say I’m truly sorry,” Alligood said, the Chronicle reports. “I’m so sorry for what I did, the decisions I made and the indescribable pain I’ve caused others.”
Alligood’s attorney, Amy Morton, tells PEOPLE her client feels remorse for her role in the crimes.
“She was trying to express how sorry she was,” Morton says of the courtroom statement. “She knows those words won’t cover it. She has got some insight, and she realizes that it was her history of taking drugs that started when she was 14.
“It was her neediness for a certain kind of love and she ran into this older gentleman. … He was so under her skin.”
Morton says Alligood has “had to come to her own understanding. The more time passed the more she realized how screwed up she had been.”
Lampley’s attorney also read a statement on his behalf.
“I wish I could go back in time and change things,” he said via Chief Deputy Public Defender David Brown, according to the Chronicle. “I know I cannot ask for your forgiveness, but I hope you find peace some day.”
Brown added that Lampley lived a life of “neglect, homelessness, abuse and mental illness,” the Chronicle reports.
“This is not offered as an excuse,” he said, “but as an attempt to understand why we’re all here.”
Angold said he also had “no excuses to offer” but hoped “to earn a small measure of forgiveness,” according to the Chronicle. (Angold and Lampley’s attorneys could not be reached for comment.)
Lokita Carter, who was in court for the sentencing, tells PEOPLE she has little sympathy for her husband’s killers.
“However harsh the punishment that these people received, there is no way justice can be served for the horrible, senseless, premeditated crimes they committed,” she says. “It was just so intentional and the remorse that they expressed in court just left me personally empty. It didn’t touch me in any way. It didn’t matter even if they did feel remorse.”
Prosecutor Leon Kousharian says that when the three defendants ended their victims’ lives, it also destroyed the lives of the victims’ families.
“It is clear they will never get over with this,” he says, adding, “How can they?”
Kousharian, the deputy district attorney in Marin County, says what sticks with him about these murders is the “randomness.”
“Victims are never really responsible for their deaths, but in this case these were two truly innocent victims who were doing nothing wrong and were gunned down for the most trivial of reasons,” he says. “They shot two people who had loving families for a little bit of property and a little bit of money.
“It seems like such a waste. The motive was so trivial.”