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MIAMI(CBSMiami)—A 50-year-old drifter who strangled an American Airlines employee in May of 1997 was sentenced Tuesday to life behind bars.

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Anthony Sampson will serve life for 2nd degree murder plus 75 years on another count for the murder 18 years ago of 41-year-old Casey Sigler, whose body was found in his Miami Beach apartment.

Circuit Judge Richard Hersch handed down the sentence after some emotional testimony from Sigler’s relatives and after a montage of photographs of the victim was played in the courtroom.

As she fought back tears, Sigler’s niece, Rebecca Knox, said, “I had never seen my father cry until the day he told us Uncle Casey was killed. We ran in the house and saw my mom sobbing. I had never seen my mother cry before.”

Knox spoke about her loss as Sampson and his attorney stood near her and listened in silence.

“How did something like this happen,” she said. “How could you kill someone who was loved by everyone. It didn’t make sense. I will never understand how someone could have so much rage and evil inside of them to take another person’s life.”

Sigler’s sister, Dolores Sigler Knox, testified, “Such a tragedy should not have happened. You Mr. Sampson took a life of someone who was good, kind and loving.”

Sigler was reportedly killed after not paying Sampson for a sexual encounter. They had met on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami.

In a surprise move in court, Sampson’s attorney, Jay Kolsky, addressed Sigler’s loved ones in the courtroom.

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“I want to address the family first,” he said. “I fight for the constitution and every individual’s right to protection under the law. The fact is that he led two lives and somewhere along the lines, he allowed this individual to cross paths with him.”

Outside the courtroom, Kolsky said of Sigler, “He was a homosexual cruising Biscayne Boulevard to pick up men.”

Sampson also testified. He did not discuss the murder but said, “They are painting me as an animal but, on this particular day, I was minding my own business. I saw him driving around and stalking me. This was on my conscience for a year. I knew justice had to be served.”

“I will take whatever punishment your honor will see fit because I’m a man and I’m black and it’s hard being a black man.”

“I’m glad the family got closure,” he said. “This is the day that God has made.”

After the sentence, Sigler’s relatives embraced inside the courtroom.

Sigler’s brother, Robert Sigler, told CBS4’S Peter D’Oench, “I want to thank the Prosecutor and everyone in the D.A.’s office and the Miami Beach Police, the men and women in blue. They did a great job. My brother was a great guy. I am disappointed that I lost my brother. It’s been 18 years and he kept getting arrested. Finally, he got caught. The judge gave the last note on my brother’s song.”

Sampson initially fled to North Carolina after the murder and then returned to Miami, where he was repeatedly arrested after committing minor crimes.

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Two years ago, detectives said he admitted to the murder of Sigler when they visited him in jail.

Peter D'Oench