‘God didn’t make this choice’: Husband sentenced to 40 years for strangling wife, burning body

The murder, and haphazard attempt to cover it up afterward, highlight how quickly domestic violence can turn fatal.

Jay Patrick Hammersley, 46, pleaded guilty to murder earlier this month for strangling his wife, Mara Vestal and burning her body in February 2019. (KPRC)

HOUSTON – A Katy man has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for murdering his wife and discarding her remains, which have never been found, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced Wednesday.

Jay Patrick Hammersley, 46, pleaded guilty to murder earlier this month for strangling Mara Vestal, and burning her body in February 2019. She was a mother of two young children, who are now being raised by family members.

The victim’s family gave powerful impact statements in court.

“She was taken from us at the age of 29,” said Kelly Goering, Vestal’s older sister. “She didn’t make this choice. God didn’t make this choice. Jay did. Jay took her from us.”

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Family members initially grew concerned after Vestal stopped returning texts and could not be reached by phone for several days. They contacted the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and an investigation was launched.

Authorities said throughout the course of the investigation, Hammersley’s story about his wife’s whereabouts changed multiple times, and he ended up confessing. Investigators then began to piece together the true chain of events.

According to investigators:

  • The two were returning home from a night out at a strip club on Feb. 16 when they got into a physical and verbal argument.
  • Hammersley claimed Vestal was hitting him before he strangled her on the bed.
  • He then put her body in a shed in the backyard of the home.
  • He called a friend to ask for help covering up the crime, but the friend declined.
  • Hammersley bought more than 100 pounds of charcoal and cremated Vestal’s body inside the shed.
  • He put her remains in a trash bag and left it on the curb.
  • When the trash was not picked up, he took the bags of ashes and threw them in a dumpster near his job.
  • Vestal’s remains haven’t been found.

The murder, and haphazard attempt to cover it up afterward, highlight how quickly domestic violence can turn fatal, Ogg said.

“We all have a responsibility to look for and recognize when someone is in danger and then try to help them, even if that means calling the police,” Ogg said. “This was a horrific crime.”

Assistant District Attorney Stephany Abner, who prosecuted the case, thanked the family, witness, and the detectives for piecing together what happened and bringing Hammersley to justice.

“This is a situation where they got into an argument one night and he strangled her,” Abner said. “Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation, domestic violence is rampant, and we hope that by holding offenders accountable, we can prevent this from happening to other victims.”