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Lakeland man sentenced to life in nearly 4 decade-old cold case

Joseph Mills changed his plea to guilty during Wednesday's hearing.

BARTOW, Fla. — For 41 years, neither Jeff nor Timothy Slaten of Lakeland believed anyone would ever be held accountable for their mother's death.

That changed Wednesday when a Polk County judge sentenced Joseph Mills to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"I don't know if there's anything such [as] closure, but it has been easier knowing he's locked up a little over two years here since they got him," Jeff Slaten said.

Mills, who changed his plea to guilty, faced charges of first-degree murder, sexual battery, and burglary with assault and battery. 

In late 2019, investigators said DNA from Mills and fingerprints from a previous unrelated arrest helped them solve the case. 

Authorities said on Sept. 4, 1981, Linda Slaten was found dead in her apartment off Brunnell Parkway. She was 31 years old at the time and her two young sons were sleeping in their rooms at the time.

"I've seen the crime scene. It's in my head everyday. I've got to live with that," Timothy Slaten said.

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay
Timothy Slaten (left), Jeff Slaten (right).

The Slaten brothers and loved ones say they wished for a trial because of the possibility of punishment by death. Mills was Timothy's football coach and said he would continue to coach him even after his mother's murder. 

"He was one of the last people on my radar," Timothy Slaten said. 

During hearing, the brothers, along with other family members, including Linda's sister Judy Butler and granddaughter, spoke. They remembered her as someone who was full of life and loved her family.

They asked Mills directly why he killed their mother. Mills did not respond to any questions. 

"She was a good person," Jeff Slaten said. "It was rough living on government housing and welfare, but she was doing the best she could. Why would he do that?"

The judge sentenced Mills to four life-in-prison sentences without the possibility of parole. The sentences are to be served consecutively to each other.

RELATED: Lakeland police announce arrest in 38-year-old cold case thanks to DNA technology

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