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Beeville man sentenced for 45 years for murdering relative

By Jessica Priest
Jan. 17, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Updated Jan. 16, 2014 at 7:17 p.m.


BEEVILLE - A Beeville man was sentenced to 45 years in prison Friday for stabbing his grandmother repeatedly and setting her house on fire.

Mark Pillow was 24 when he went to live with his grandmother, Dorothy Pillow, in the 700 block of North Jefferson Street in Beeville.

On May 4, prosecutors said Pillow killed his grandmother when she wouldn't give him a portion of her $672 disability check so he could buy marijuana.

They said Pillow knew right from wrong because he then washed his hands and clothes of blood, placed a machete and an ax in the shape of a cross at her feet, started a fire in the attic and ditched the murder weapon - a knife.

Pillow was arrested later for possession of marijuana. Police discovered then that he had $200 in his pockets and no job where he could have earned it, said Assistant District Attorney James Sales.

"The sheer brutality and betrayal of the crime cries out for justice," Sales said.

Defense attorney Viki Martino, however, through a 90-minute sentencing hearing before District Judge Joel Johnson, sought to prove Pillow was suffering from schizophrenia.

A few weeks before the murder and arson, Pillow went to a local emergency room and told a doctor he had been bitten by snakes and frogs all over. That doctor wrote, "psych?" on his report, but Pillow was sent home, she said.

"Had he followed through, he probably would have been in a state hospital. ... I think that's the bigger story: the lack of adequate mental health services," Martino said.

Although one psychiatrist found Pillow sane, another did not.

And family members who testified Friday did not seem to know his diagnosis either.

Diana Vela, of Victoria, said her mom cared for Pillow when no one else had the money or the patience.

"Sometimes, I was jealous of Mark's relationship (with my mom) because she treated him so much like a son," Vela said.

She did not remember Pillow ever complaining to her about delusions.

Ben Brookins, 27, of Fort Worth, described Pillow differently. In some ways, he was just a typical younger brother, imitating his skateboarding moves, Brookins said.

He noticed three years ago that Pillow was hearing voices and seeing people in bushes that weren't there.

"I would tell him I believed him because, at the time, I thought it would comfort him," Brookins said.

Once, because his grandmother requested he do so, he tried to drop Pillow off at a mental health facility.

"We drove up to the building, and he told me, 'Ben, I don't want to go in there,'" Brookins said, so they didn't.

The victim's brother, James Wood, also testified.

Pillow pleaded guilty in December to murder and arson, both first-degree felonies. Sales requested a sentence of 50 years for each count. He declined to charge Pillow with capital murder because of the mental health concerns.

Johnson sentenced him to 45 years for each count, which will run concurrently. Pillow will not be eligible for parole until he has served half that time.

Martino was particularly emotional about the case, as it called up memories of her son, who is about Pillow's age. He, too, has schizophrenia and has been in trouble with the law.

She worried Pillow might not get the treatment he needs in prison because one medication for the illness does not work for everyone.

"Once someone is an adult, they must commit themselves unless they show they are a danger to themselves or others," Martino said. "By then, it's often too late. I think that's what happened today.

"Mark made the decision not to go to trial. ... Part of that is due to how terrible and remorseful he feels," she said.

The victim's granddaughter, Jessica Yzaguirre, 26, of Beeville, said the family is glad the case is over.

"Now, our Meme can rest," she said after the verdict was read. "I don't hate him - but forgiving, I don't believe I can do that right now."

Karen Kroll, the victim's sister, said via email that the sentence was as close to justice as they could hope for. She prayed the family would heal.

Dorothy Pillow, who once lived in Victoria, has family members who still live in Victoria. Family members said she enjoyed going to garage sales, gardening and spending time with her many grandchildren. She was 65.

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