SANTA ANA (CBS) — A 36-year-old man who murdered a prostitute in a hotel room near Disneyland was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Cesar Gomez, of El Monte, was found guilty of first-degree murder for beating and strangling 24-year-old Ashley Lilly at the Crown Plaza Anaheim Resort in Anaheim.

Before Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg handed down Gomez’s sentence, Deputy District Attorney Cameron Talley told the judge that the victim’s mother wanted to be there, but could not afford to make the trip from Missouri.

“She was here for the trial, but she couldn’t come out again,” Talley said. “She wanted me to say it wasn’t for lack of interest. She loved her daughter.”

After Gomez was convicted, Anna Lilly said she had taken time off from her job at a hospital, where she cares for the elderly, to attend the trial of her daughter’s killer.

She said another one of her daughters, Neomi, was raped and killed in Omaha, Nebraska, when she was nine years old. The killer was convicted of rape and murder charges, but the family had to endure three trials after the first conviction was overturned on appeal and the second was declared a mistrial.

Ashley Lilly was a student at the Art Institute of California Orange County between 2004-2007 and had hoped to become a filmmaker, her mother said.

Gomez feels remorseful, argued Deputy Public Defender Scott Sanders.

“He feels very sorry about what happened,” Sanders said. “He wishes he could go back and change it.”

Gomez contacted the victim after seeing her profile on an escort website and arranged to meet her in her hotel room, prosecutors said. Sometime during the night of Aug. 20, 2009, Gomez showed up at the victim’s room intending to rob her, Talley said. Gomez reportedly did not have sex with Lilly.

When Lilly put up a fight, Gomez beat her and choked her to death. He then tied her up, thinking she was still alive, as he ransacked the room for valuables, Talley said.

Gomez was sentenced to life without parole, and not a lesser charge, because of the special circumstance that the murder was committed during a robbery. Prosecutors never sought the death penalty.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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