Trenton man gets 22 years for slaying girlfriend

A city man who viciously stabbed his girlfriend to death in June 2013 received 22 years of state incarceration on Friday but suggested life imprisonment would have been more appropriate.

William Nobles

William Nobles

William Nobles, who previously pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter, said his slain lover “did not deserve to be murdered like that,” adding, “I don’t deserve to be back on the street.”

Nobles, 44, armed himself with scissors and stabbed 54-year-old Celeste Pernell over 20 times inside her Southard Street home on June 1, 2013. Trenton Police arrested him two days later on murder charges and weapons offenses. 

Shackled in chains and sporting an orange jumpsuit, Nobles described himself as a “good person” when the court gave him the opportunity to speak Friday morning at his sentencing hearing. He also suggested his domestic violence was out of character, telling the court he had failed to take his medication prior to the slaying.

“I never ever meant to hurt Celeste,” Nobles said before Mercer County Superior Court Judge Thomas Brown. “I am not a violent person toward females. That’s not what I do. … I loved Celeste.”

Brown described the homicide as a “heinous, senseless, violent killing” and recited Nobles’ prior convictions for shoplifting, first-degree robbery and second-degree aggravated assault before sentencing the defendant to 22 years in state prison in accordance with the plea agreement.

Patricia Stokes-Combs, a longtime friend of the slain victim, admonished Nobles in no uncertain terms when she addressed the court Friday. Standing behind the podium and turning her body toward Nobles, Stokes-Combs said, “Celeste meant everything to us. … She fed you. She told me she loved you. When I first saw you, there was something about you I didn’t like.”

The bespectacled Nobles sat quietly at the defense table and looked down as Stokes-Combs spoke, prompting her to say, “Please look at me, Mr. Nobles. Mr. Nobles, be a man. Hold your head up. You’ve got to have some remorse.”

Nobles had taken the voice, air and last breath away from his girlfriend, Stokes-Combs said, adding, “I hope they bring you out of that jail in a body bag.”

After Stokes-Combs concluded her remarks, Nobles addressed the court and said, “I never met the lady who was standing here.”

Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Michelle Gasparian described the June 2013 slaying as a “brutal domestic violence homicide” and mentioned the gory details of how Pernell had scissors protruding out of her neck when authorities discovered her slain body. “Ms. Pernell was killed by somebody she loved, somebody she trusted,” Gasparian said Friday at Nobles’ sentencing hearing.

If Nobles had taken his case to trial, public defender Jenna Casper would have presented a diminished capacity defense arguing that Nobles was in a temporary mental state that prevented him from forming the thought process necessary to prove he had intentionally killed his girlfriend.

At Friday’s sentencing hearing, Casper told the court her client “accepts responsibility” for the homicide, adding, “He’s extremely sorry for what happened.”

A grand jury in March 2014 indicted Nobles on murder charges and weapons offenses, but he ultimately resolved his case by pleading guilty Oct. 19 to the lesser charge of aggravated manslaughter. His plea agreement recommended a 22-year prison sentence and called for the state to dismiss the remaining charges in the indictment.

Although Nobles said, “I don’t deserve to be back on the street,” and, “If they had the death penalty I would accept it,” Judge Brown still honored the plea agreement and sentenced him to 22 years of incarceration.

Nobles must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence before he can become eligible for parole and will be subjected to five years of parole supervision upon release. He received several years of jail credit for being locked up on high monetary bail while his case played out in court.

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