By Jan Wolfe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Friday imposed a lifetime prison sentence on a member of an Islamic State militant group nicknamed "The Beatles" that beheaded American hostages, at a hearing where one victim's mother told the defendant, "I will not hate you."
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria, Virginia, held an emotionally charged sentencing hearing for London-born Alexanda Kotey, 38, who pleaded guilty to murdering U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.
Hostages held by Kotey and his fellow militants nicknamed them "The Beatles" for their British accents. The hearing included testimony from victims' relatives.
Family members described the dread of knowing loved ones were in captivity, and the grief they felt in the aftermath of their deaths.
"I will not hate you," Kassig's mother, Paula Kassig, said to Kotey during the hearing. "It would give sadness, pain and bitterness too much power over me. I choose to let my heart be broken open, not broken apart."
Kotey's lawyer said during the court hearing that, in an effort to "make amends," Kotey is meeting with some family members of victims.
Ellis agreed to keep Kotey detained in Alexandria until July and said that arrangement would facilitate those meetings.
Kotey was a citizen of the United Kingdom, but the British government withdrew his citizenship. His Islamic State cell took journalists and aid workers hostage, tortured them and circulated videotapes of gruesome beheadings on the internet.
Kotey admitted to inflicting torture on hostages, including waterboarding and electric shocks with a stun gun.
Kotey's lawyers had asked the judge to make a recommendation that Kotey not be sent to Supermax prison in Colorado known as ADX Florence, home to some of the world's most dangerous criminals, including the Mexican drug kingpin, El Chapo.
Ellis declined to make any recommendation to the Bureau of Prisons about where Kotey will eventually be sent. That means Kotey is likely heading to ADX Florence, but the federal Bureau of Prisons has yet to determine where to send Kotey.
U.S. authorities had advised British officials that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty. As part of Kotey's plea agreement, U.S. authorities have also agreed to make their best efforts to transfer him to a prison in the United Kingdom after 15 years.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)