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DARMSTADT, Germany — A German court Wednesday found a 21-year-old American guilty of murdering his former girlfriend and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

The sentence was lighter than it could have been because Edward Sharpsteen was a month shy of his 21st birthday at the time of the Oct. 27 knife attack on Natascha C. Dillard. The five-member panel, led by Presiding Judge Volker Wagner, applied adult law in reaching its verdict, but opted to invoke a section that applies to juveniles because the defendant was not yet 21.

“Mr. Sharpsteen,” Wagner said as he addressed the accused, “you are lucky, lucky, very lucky.”

If the court had ruled that Sharpsteen was an adult, he could have received a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 15 years. As it is, Sharpsteen, the son of a U.S. soldier, will likely spend between 7½ and 10 years in jail, according to Manfred Vogel, who prosecuted the case.

An early release “depends on his development,” Vogel said after the trial.

Sharpsteen stabbed Dillard with a switchblade about 90 times after attempts to reconcile with her failed. The act, which Wagner described as nothing short of “naked brutality,” was caught on videotape by a security camera positioned in a McDonald’s parking lot, where the encounter took place.

Dillard, who had lived with the defendant for a time, agreed to meet him in public, figuring it was a safe place to reiterate to him that they were through. The video, which was played in court, showed Sharpsteen concealing the weapon behind his back before the attack.

Sharpsteen stabbed Dillard about the body, including the neck. He also kicked her multiple times as she lay dying.

“It was cruel. It couldn’t be any crueler,” Wagner said through an interpreter. “… Anyone who stabs somebody 90 times must have been in a bloody frenzy.”

Sharpsteen, who had tried to win Dillard back with roses and balloons, claimed in court last week that he “blacked out” and couldn’t remember killing what he called the love of his life. His attorney, Hans Georg Kaschel, also argued that his client had had a troubled and rebellious childhood that got worse as he got older.

When Dillard broke things off, Sharpsteen felt as if “an elephant was sitting on his chest,” Kaschel said.

Before the panel began its deliberations Wednesday, Sharpsteen addressed the court and apologized to Dillard’s family and his.

“There’s nothing I can say or do that will bring Natascha back,” he said. “… If I could change it, I would.”

The panel deliberated for less than an hour. After Wagner pronounced the verdict, he spoke for more than 20 minutes, summarizing the difficulties the court faced over the juvenile-adult quandary and its disgust with the crime. He attributed a lot of it to Sharpsteen’s obsession with violence, from video games and rap music to his physical abuse of Dillard.

“First the rose, then the knife,” Wagner said. “It happens frequently.”

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