It will be at least 42 years before convicted murderer James Christopher Masterson is eligible for parole from his life sentence, a Lyon County District Court judge ruled Monday.
Masterson, 23, was convicted in April of strangling his grandmother and stealing credit and debit cards and more in July 2010, apparently to feed a heroin addiction. Lyon County District Attorney Bob Auer said that Masterson had alienated every family member except his grandmother, 73-year-old Peggy Herlacher of Silver Springs, with his stealing and addiction. Masterson had moved in with her about a week before he was arrested on murder charges.
"The way he repaid her kindness and love was to strangle her, up close and personal, face to face," Auer said.
He said he urged the family to show up and speak out at every parole hearing Masterson may have. The first-degree murder conviction carries a life sentence with a minimum of 20 years served before he is eligible for parole. If granted parole, he will start serving its elderly-victim enhancement and then repeat the process for the other charges, which include robbery, also with an elderly enhancement, grand larceny and grand larceny of a motor vehicle.
Judge Leon Aberasturi ruled that those sentences be served consecutively, not simultaneously. Sentences for Masterson's three convictions related to the debit and credit card theft and use, each carrying one to four years, will be served after those for previous charges.
Auer stressed that even with a minimum term before Masterson is eligible for parole, Masterson could be behind bars longer. Auer said it is, as far as he knows, the most horrific murder of an adult in Lyon County history.
"I've been a lawyer and prosecutor for 29 years," he said. "I would say, to date, that this is the worst murder case I've ever been a part of personally."
Masterson strangled his grandmother July 22, 2010, and robbed her and stole her vehicle, authorities said. He carried her body in the truck of her car, took her to Riverbank, Calif., and buried her in his grandfather's flower bed, authorities said. Her hands were bound, and her body had been wrapped in a throw blanket she had used to cover her legs while she watched television at home, according to investigators.
After she was reported missing, police officers found her jewelry box emptied.
Lyon County Sheriff Alan Veil said at a September 2010 news conference that Masterson, who had no criminal history, was apparently motivated by heroin addiction. He had moved in with his grandmother as a "last-ditch effort" after being at odds with his family over stealing and lying.
"He took her credit cards, he took her jewelry and he was under the influence of heroin when he was arrested, so I think it's pretty easy to link those - it's narcotics-related, and he was looking for money to support his habit," Veil said then.
According to the criminal complaint, Masterson first used his grandmother's credit card to put gas in her car in Silver Springs on July 22, 2010 - the last time friends or family had any contact with her.
Masterson then purchased $100 in Starbucks gift cards in Fernley and returned the cards to California Starbucks stores for cash, according to investigators.
He was arrested on July 25, 2010, in Sacramento after reportedly committing a driving offense while in his grandmother's car. He was in possession of her jewelry and credit cards and allegedly in possession of heroin, according to a criminal complaint filed then in Sacramento.