OREM Seth Rollins Broomhead avoided the possibility of a death sentence Friday when he pleaded guilty to gunning down two people in an Orem orchard in June 2003.
Broomhead, 21, will be sentenced next month to life in prison without the possibility of parole under an arrangement with prosecutors, Deputy Utah County Attorney Tim Taylor said.
The deal avoids the first death penalty trial in Utah County since the 1996 retrial of Ron Lafferty for the murder of his sister-in-law and niece.
Prosecutors charged Broomhead in October 2003, four months after Pablo Montoya, 20, and Maritza Aguilar, 22, were shot to death in the orchard of Cooks Farm and Greenhouse at 1645 W. 1600 North.
Orem Police began to focus on Broomhead a month after the double murder because they learned he had contacted Montoya and Aguilar to set up an apparent drug deal in the hours before they were killed.
The FBI developed further information against Broomhead in September 2003, and the following month, Broomhead allegedly confessed to the killings while in jail on a separate case, prosecutors and witnesses said at a preliminary hearing in April 2004.
At the hearing, Broomhead's former friend and roommate testified he was with Broomhead at the time of the shooting. Jeremy Gerton said he watched Broomhead get into the back seat of the couple's vehicle but turned away when Montoya pulled a plastic bag of cocaine from under the driver's seat.
Gerton said he heard a pop and turned to see Montoya slump forward. Then he said Broomhead pointed the gun at the back of Aguilar's head and fired twice.
Gerton said Broomhead used a black, .22 revolver that is believed to have been stolen.
Salt Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Rosie Rivera testified that Broomhead confessed. She said Broomhead told her he shot Montoya because he was spooked when the man leaned forward in his seat.
Rivera said Broomhead told her he didn't know why he shot Aguilar, who was his friend.
Prosecutors filed for the death penalty and initially said they would not enter plea negotiations, but Taylor said Broomhead's young age he was 19 at the time of the murders led to concerns a jury might reduce the charge to life in prison, giving him a chance at parole.
"We felt we could get a conviction," Taylor said. "But we had a bit of a risk going to trial. This is a good way to get closure and make sure Seth won't be on the streets again."
That was a message Taylor said he had to explain to Aguilar's family.
"They were concerned that at some point he could get out of prison," Taylor said. "The Utah statute does allow the Board of Pardons to release someone sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole."
No such convict has been released under that statute, but it is too new to know what will happen after an inmate has been in prison for 30 or 40 years.
"However, in the cases of other double homicides, we could show the family the Board of Pardons has always recommended that they never be released."
Taylor said prosecutors have not been able to contact Montoya's family since his death but his ex-wife, who pleaded through tears for help finding the killer before Broomhead was arrested, never supported the death penalty.
A suppression hearing to determine if a judge would throw out Broomhead's confession on a technicality was scheduled earlier this week but was canceled because of the prosecution's offer, Taylor said.
A message left Friday afternoon for Broomhead's attorneys, Tom Means and Richard Gale, was not returned.Fourth District Judge Samuel McVey scheduled sentencing for March 9.