- Associated Press - Friday, March 13, 2015

STERLING, Colo. (AP) - A man accused of killing his grandparents to get a modest inheritance will serve life in prison after pleading guilty in the case.

Under a deal with prosecutors, Brendan Lee Johnson, 20, pleaded guilty on Thursday to first-degree murder in the death of his grandmother, Shirley Severance of Sterling, The Sterling Journal-Advocate (https://bit.ly/18g3c2B ) reported. Johnson had also been charged with murder in the death of his grandfather, Charles Severance, but District Attorney Brittny Lewton dropped that and all other charges he faced and will no longer seek the death penalty against him.

Johnson’s girlfriend, Cassandra Rieb, is also charged in the death of the couple in May 2014. Just hours after Johnson changed his plea, Rieb pleaded not guilty to the premediated murders of the Severances as well as 12 other charges, including theft.

The teens allegedly told authorities they had planned for a few weeks to smother the Severances with pillows as they slept, but the effort became complicated when the couple put up a struggle. Investigators say Rieb said they wanted to get the grandparents’ small house and $20,000 that Johnson expected to inherit.

The grandmother’s burned remains were found in two locations, outside Sterling and about 30 miles away in Lorenzo, Nebraska. Authorities say Johnson and Rieb called 911 to report they had found the grandfather’s body, which was too heavy for them to dispose of as allegedly planned.

Johnson had earlier pleaded not guilty to 14 counts. His guilty plea to the first-degree murder charge means an automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. His sentencing was delayed until April 27 in order to allow his mother to attend the hearing.

Lewton told The Associated Press on Friday that she thought justice was served by the guilty plea because Johnson took responsibility for his actions.

“He is going to die in prison which is akin to the death penalty in a lot of ways,” she said, noting that he would not be able to hurt anyone else.

Lewton said a plea deal was also a possibility for Rieb but she said no agreement was imminent. She said she began negotiating with both Johnson’s and Rieb’s lawyers after announcing her plan to seek the death penalty in September.


Information from: Journal-Advocate, https://www.journal-advocate.com/

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