BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — Before being sent to prison, a Battle Creek-area man who earlier this year led police to the body of his murdered girlfriend apologized to her family and acknowledged what he did was “horrible.”

In a Battle Creek courtroom Monday afternoon, Derek Horton was sentenced to between 15 and 30 years in prison with credit for 682 days served for the murder of Amber Griffin.

Amber Griffin’s mother declined an on-camera interview following the sentencing, but told News 8 that Horton “didn’t get enough time.”

“He’s still breathing and she’s dead,” she added.

When given the opportunity to address the court, Horton apologized.

“I would like to apologize to my girlfriend’s mom and family,” he said. “I want to apologize to Amber’s family and friends. This is not something that I set out to do that day. I’m very sorry for my actions. I’m sorry for what I took from you guys. I understand what I took, I can never give back. This is not something that I’m taking lightly. This is not something that I don’t care about.”

He said he loved Griffin and knows her family and friends loved her, too. He said he hoped one day, her loved ones could forgive him.

“I’m really lost for words. There’s not enough times that I can say sorry,” Horton said. “I’m sorry for my actions. I’m ashamed of myself. If I could take it all back, I would literally take every bit of it back.”

Wearing a T-shirt with her only child’s face on it, Griffin’s mother Carman Griffin wept as she stood before the judge.

“Am I going to be able to do this?” she wondered aloud.

She then read from a prepared statement, crying the entire time.

“…He took away the only person that meant anything to me. I can never hold her, never be a part of her life anymore. All we have left is memories and pictures,” Carman Griffin said. “Every day I wonder what she was going through, what she was thinking before you brutally murdered her. It’s a daily nightmare.”

She recalled a wonderful daughter, granddaughter and best friend whose absence is felt every day.

“Every morning, the reality of her murder starts off my day,” Carman Griffin said. “This has caused me and her children a lot anxiety, depression, fear, emotional breakdowns, anger. Amber will never see her kids grow up, graduate, get married, have children of their own. Our lives will never be the same.”

She asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence, saying Horton had long abused her daughter and calling him sick and remorseless.

“We struggle with the fact that she’s never going to have a proper burial. This has been more than a murder. This is daily torture,” Carman Griffin said. “We’ll never have our Amber back.”

She also read statements from her grandchildren.

“…What he did to my mom was so wrong and a lot of people know it. He should not have done it because no matter how mad somebody makes you, it doesn’t give you the right to hurt her or kill her,” the statement from Amber Griffin’s daughter said. “…He should get life.”

“I’m really sad about my mom,” the statement from her son read in part. “I hope (Horton) stays in prison for what he did.”

An undated courtesy photo of Amber Griffin.

Amber Griffin, 27, a mother of two from Bedford Township, is believed to have been killed June 23, 2020. In the early hours of that day, authorities say, someone called 911 from her phone. Screaming could be heard in the background. The call was later tracked to a house on Oneita Street in Battle Creek, where police found signs of a struggle and blood on all three floors.

Horton, Griffin’s live-in boyfriend, was arrested for her murder on June 26, 2020. In March of this year, he brought the first full day of his murder trial to a halt when he told prosecutors that he would give up the location of Griffin’s body in exchange for a plea deal. He pointed police to a few spots in some woods on Waubascon Road off Limit Street where, on a second day of digging, they found Griffin’s bones.

“Not only did he kill my daughter, he chose to bury her like she was not a human person,” Carman Griffin told the court Monday.

Police had searched the Waubascon property — which is owned by the same person who owns the Oneita house about half a mile away — before. While they could not find Amber Griffin on their own, they did find a receipt for a shovel that led them to local hardware store. Surveillance video from the store showed Horton buying the shovel for $8 on June 23.

The prosecutor said at sentencing that an autopsy report — which his office got Monday morning — listed Griffin’s cause of death was “homicidal violence by unspecified means,” noting her body had been decaying for nearly two years by the time it was found. The prosecutor added the autopsy found Griffin had three broken ribs and evidence of several prior injuries.

“You’re a textbook example of what domestic violence is…” Calhoun County Circuit Court Judge John Hallacy told Horton before he handed down the sentence, “It’s really just hard to fathom somebody killing somebody, especially somebody you say during your comments here that you loved. I find that very insincere as they simply aren’t compatible with one another at all, at all.”

Hallacy said he struggled to decide whether Horton leading police to Griffin’s body was a good thing, even though it returned her to her family.

“You hid her and then used it to your own benefit in the end and the fairness of that just defies me,” Hallacy said. “I can’t figure it out.”

In exchange for telling police where Griffin’s body was, Horton was allowed to plead no contest to second-degree murder. A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt but it is treated the same as one at sentencing.

The judge said the only thing holding him back from imposing a much longer sentence was Horton’s deal, which he said he was abiding by only “reluctantly.”

“Nobody should have the power to take somebody’s life, but you did,” he said.

—News 8’s Jacqueline Francis contributed to this report.