PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Saying she could find no redeeming qualities regarding a Peoria man, a judge sentenced him to natural life in prison for killing a North Valley woman in particularly barbaric and brutal manner.

Chief Peoria County Judge Katherine Gorman called Christopher J. Sanders, 45, a “coward without a soul” for not only brutally and savagely killing 50-year-old Mona Ellison but then hiding her body in a wooded area near East Peoria Community High School.

The judge, at times, seemed to be at a loss for words when talking about the case. She called the killing of Mona “senseless, unnecessary, cruel and heartless.”

She paused, shook her head and said, “it doesn’t even seem enough to say it need to be deterred.”

A Peoria County jury took just 40 minutes to find Sanders guilty of murdering Ellison who was found on Jan. 21, 2021, one day after she was reported missing.

Jurors also found Sanders, 45, acted in a way that was “brutal and heinous way, indicative of wanton cruelty.” That finding raises any potential sentence from a 60-year maximum up to life without parole.

The chair where Sanders or any defendant would have sat was empty. As he did a week prior, Sanders, refused to leave his cell at the Peoria County Jail and attend his sentencing hearing. And as she said last week, Gorman said the hearing would go on regardless of if Sanders was there or not.

A deputy told Gorman that Sanders was aware of the ramifications of not attending and still opted not to come.

Several members of Ellison’s family filled one side of the courtroom. The other side, where the family of a defendant would normally sit, was empty.

A family member read a statement on behalf of her relatives, saying the loss has sentenced them to a lifetime of grief. Mona was the person whose “smile showed she was your friend and that you would not be forgotten.”

A motive was never established at Sanders’ trial in June. The two had been in some type of a relationship, prosecutors said more than two years ago when Sanders was charged.

Testimony focused on blood stains at two North Valley homes, both on Northeast Madison Avenue. Blood was also found in a back stairwell and in a basement of one of the homes on Madison as well.

Peoria police initially responded but were stymied until witnesses reported Sanders carrying large bags and putting them into a cab which he took to the 100 block of Woodrow Drive in East Peoria — which is where Ellison was found.

Ellison’s body was covered from head to toe with bruises. She had several cuts and stab wounds on her body. Her nose was broken. Her left cheek was broken and had a suture with a needle hanging from her face. Several ribs were broken and those punctured her lung.

Peoria County Assistant State’s Attorney Brian FitzSimons said there were several cut and stab marks on her body that weren’t designed to kill but rather hurt her.

“He did this in a very purposeful manner for the sole purpose of inflicting pain upon another,” he said asking for a life sentence.

Sanders’ attorney Bart Beals stood up when it was his turn and asked only for the 20-year minimum before he quickly sat down.

In passing sentence, the judge said she tried hard to find any redeeming about Sanders “but just couldn’t.”

“The court can’t say enough about the heinous nature of this crime. I tried to find something mitigating about Mr. Sanders, but I can’t,” she said, before telling the family that she was sorry for their loss.