An Alabama man was sentenced to prison Monday for dismembering his girlfriend’s body with a chainsaw and dumping the remains behind a Target store, PEOPLE confirms.
Circuit Judge James Smith sentenced William Lewis Payton, 44, to 40 years in prison. He was convicted earlier this month of corpse abuse after the death of 27-year-old Tonya Amerson, whose remains were found in trash bags and U-haul boxes on October 16, 2015.
Payton was initially charged with murdering the mother of three young girls, but medical examiners were unable to determine her cause of death, Madison County Prosecutor Joshua Ballinger tells PEOPLE.
“We had to dismiss the murder charge,” he says.
Ballinger says the medical examiner couldn’t rule with certainty if her death was foul play, partly because she may have been run over by a dump truck.
Ballinger says Amerson also had “quite a few drugs in her system that could have been sufficient to kill her.”
However, speaking about the dismemberment charge, Ballinger said, “That’s a level of depravity you only see in a horror movie.”
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Ballinger says authorities recovered the electric saw used to dismember Amerson at Payton’s home, and that it had her blood on it.
Also found at the home were cleaning products and an industrial carpet cleaner. Ballinger says authorities also discovered traces of her blood in the carpet and also the bed.
Police also found bloody kitchen knives wrapped up in a blanket with Amerson’s body. Matching knives were found at his home.
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Payton denied killing or dismembering his long-time girlfriend.
“He has never provided any explanation,” says Ballinger. “His only argument is he had a bad back and he couldn’t have done this.”
During his sentencing, Payton’s family and defense attorney asked for leniency. They mentioned his health issues, including Sciatica and high blood pressure.