FORT MYERS — The words came from Greg Lewis dripping with disdain, directed with daggers at the man who killed his mother.
Lewis could hardly say Shane Simpkins’ name, referring to him as “the convicted murderer” or “the vicious coward.” But he wanted Simpkins to know the depths of his loathing for him.
With Simpkins on the precipice of receiving life in prison for the murder of Estero grandmother Mary Ann Zarb, this was his chance.
“I hope the rest of his life is filled with heartbreak and misery,” Lewis said in a Lee County courtroom Monday afternoon. “I ask this court to sentence this murderer to the maximum punishment allowed by law.”
Lee Senior Circuit Judge Thomas Reese did just that Monday afternoon, ordering life in prison for Simpkins, the 26-year-old Cape Coral handyman who strangled Zarb, 64, of Estero, and dumped her body near the Lee-Charlotte county border in April 2011.
A jury in March found Simpkins guilty of second-degree murder, discarding his claim that a co-worker and co-defendant in the case, Christopher Neuberger, killed Zarb while they were on the job at her Country Barn Drive home. Prosecutors said Simpkins killed Zarb for her money, cashing about $25,000 in her checks and going on a small spending spree.
The sentence, handed down at the end of a nearly hourlong hearing, came as a welcome relief to Lewis, who called the ordeal “emotionally draining and exhausting for the entire family.” Zarb’s body was missing for two weeks before Simpkins and Neuberger led investigators to it. Then, family members waited for two years to see Simpkins and Neuberger brought to justice.
“I can’t be any happier with the outcome,” Lewis said. “It’s taken a long time to get here, but it’s done.”
At a five-day trial, briefly interrupted when Simpkins bumbled through representing himself, the repeat felon told jurors that Neuberger had killed Zarb, then threatened him if he didn’t cooperate with the cover-up.
Prosecutors never had any DNA or blood evidence linking Simpkins or Neuberger to the murder, and Neuberger, who testified against Simpkins in exchange for a plea agreement, never said he witnessed the killing. Nonetheless, circumstantial evidence piled up against Simpkins, including purchases of expensive tools and a letter and call from prison to a witness, with insinuations that the witness lie on the stand.
Simpkins didn’t address Zarb’s supporters or circumstances of the crime Monday, only asking the judge a few questions about logistics of his appeal.
Prosecutors sought the life sentence from the outset, seeking to designate Simpkins as a prison release reoffender. Simpkins has served two previous prison stints, including time for robbery without a weapon, burglary and grand theft.
“He has shown he cannot change and become a successful member of society,” assistant state attorney Marie Scalise said.
Also Monday, Neuberger, 27, of Fort Myers, formally received his 10-year prison sentence, as set out in his plea agreement. Lewis said he was “disappointed from an emotional standpoint” about the plea agreement, but acknowledged it was needed to secure Simpkins’ conviction.