Local News

Wednesday, Aug 22 2012 03:51 PM

Man gets 50 years to life for killing fishing buddy

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Dennis Lee Simmons was sentenced to 50 years to life on Wednesday morning for murdering a former friend last summer and burying the body on the shore of Lake Isabella.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Dennis Lee Simmons was sentenced to 50 years to life on Wednesday morning for murdering a former friend last summer and burying the body on the shore of Lake Isabella.

    click to expand click to collapse
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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Patricia Largent, the sister of Thomas Hill who was murdered by Dennis Lee Simmons last summer, talks about her brother outside the courtroom after Simmons was sentenced to 50 years to life.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

His friend and fishing pal wanted to reconcile, but Dennis Lee Simmons wanted revenge.

Simmons shot and killed Thomas Hill last summer about a week after losing a fight to his former friend, and he then buried the body on the shores of Isabella Lake.

Noting the "high degree of cruelty, viciousness and callousness" of the murder, Kern County Superior Court Judge John R. Brownlee sentenced Simmons to 50 years to life in prison Wednesday morning. Simmons exhaled deeply near the end of the proceedings but otherwise showed no emotion.

"In cases like this, no amount of time fixes things for (the victim's family)," prosecutor David Wilson said afterward.

He said the victim's daughter was pleased with the sentence.

Patricia Largent, a sister of Hill's, said her brother had his share of problems, but he didn't deserve to die the way he did.

"He was really good-hearted, but always into drugs," said Largent, who added that the rest of Hill's large family is doing "all right."

Largent said Hill had lived with Simmons for a while, and the two enjoyed fishing together. They'd known each other about six months, she said.

Simmons' attorney, Richard Terry, did not return a call for comment.

Prosecutors say Simmons, 60, and Hill had gotten into a fist fight last summer, and Simmons ended up getting the worst of it. Eight days later, Hill called and asked if he could come over with a 12-pack of beer as a kind of peace offering.

Simmons agreed. Within a short time after Hill's arrival, however, Simmons had shot his 52-year-old former friend in the face, according to prosecutors.

The gunshot caused Hill to swallow fragments of his jawbone and a sizable quantity of blood. But it didn't kill him.

Over at least the next 40 minutes and possibly as long as six hours, Simmons considered what to do next, prosecutors said. He testified that he smoked a couple cigarettes, downed a few shots of whiskey and talked to God about what he'd done.

Then he shot Simmons twice more, killing him.

Prosecutors say Simmons loaded the body into his pickup and drove to the Hanning Flat Campground area of Isabella Lake, where he buried him. A few days later, Kern County sheriff's deputies responded to the area for a report of a hand sticking out of the sand.

Evidence including blood inside Simmons' home, and a rake and shovel in his truck, were soon found, deputies reported.

A second man, Clifton Ray Blake, had been staying with Simmons and prosecutors had alleged he was involved in the crime. But Simmons testified that Blake wasn't at his house at the time of the killing, and the jury acquitted him.

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