OGDEN -- Jacob Ethridge was spared the death penalty Thursday by pleading guilty to aggravated murder charges in exchange for the prosecution setting aside execution as a penalty.
Sentencing is set for Dec. 13 where Ethridge, 32, faces two consecutive 20-years-to-life prison terms. The prosecution also agreed not to seek a life-without-parole prison term.
Ethridge murdered two women in the early morning hours of July 13, 2008, after walking the streets of Ogden "thinking about becoming a serial killer," Deputy Weber County Attorney Bill Daines said during Thursday's plea hearing. "This was not a spur of the moment decision."
Killed by single shots to the head were Teresa Rene Tingey, 43, and Rosanna Marie Cruz, 25. They both were prostitutes working Adams Avenue in the area of 26th and 24th streets who made the mistake of soliciting Ethridge.
In his confession hours after the slayings, released by authorities Thursday, Ethridge tells Ogden police detective Tim Scott he expected more of a thrill from the killings. "It wasn't what I expected. I didn't think I would feel remorse and I do."
His fantasies he'd had for about a year, describing them simply: "Walking down the street and shooting someone as they walk past me."
Lead defense counsel Randy Richards told 2nd District Judge W. Brent West he disagreed with Daines' interpretation of events, saying Ethridge's decision to stop taking his medication in the weeks prior was a bigger factor.
As part of the plea bargain, West agreed to set a Nov. 12 hearing at which two mental health experts will testify for the defense about Ethridge's psychological problems. Testimony also will cover the effects of going off his medication for his diagnosis, which has never been made public, except that it began at adolescence. The prosecution plans its own expert to testify in rebuttal.
In his confession, Ethridge told the detective he was a firearms expert, serving as a marksmanship instructor in the Marine Corps. Ethridge was in the Marine Corps shortly after graduating high school. How and why he left the service has never been disclosed.
Ethridge went to his parents' home in Roy after the early morning killings and confessed. His father drove him to the Ogden police station, where he also confessed. He has been held in Weber County Jail without bail since his arrest that morning.
Thursday's plea negotiation cancels a month-long trial that was set to begin Monday in Ogden's 2nd District Court.
Prosecutors and Ethridge's public defenders had been earnestly preparing for trial as late as Tuesday afternoon, when they huddled in West's courtroom to pare some 70 jurors from a roster of 200 who were to be called beginning Monday.
It was during that session that the plea negotiation became reality.
"We'd been talking off and on all along," Richards said. "Let's just say Tuesday we came together more seriously."
Deputy Weber County Attorney Gary Heward agreed Tuesday was the turning point.
He called prior plea discussions "very limited. The first realistic conversation we had came Tuesday."
The appeals factor
Heward said the thought of 20 years of appeals that typically accompanies a death penalty "figures into the decision absolutely" to forego execution.
"When Doug Lovell was sentenced to death in 1993, I predicted then that I'd be dead before he was," said Heward, who just turned 50.
The case of Lovell, 52, recently was ordered back to 2nd District Court for trial in the 1985 murder of Joyce Yost of South Ogden, even though Lovell pleaded guilty to the murders, described them on the stand, and led authorities on a fruitless five-week search to recover her body where Lovell said he had buried her in Ogden Valley.
Lovell's guilty pleas were vacated by the Utah Supreme Court because the judge taking his pleas in 1993 failed to advise Lovell he had the right to a public trial before an impartial jury.
Heward specifically made sure those two were added to the litany of questions asked of Ethridge in entering his guilty pleas Thursday.
"I applaud the prosecution," Richards said of the plea bargain. "It was a very reasonable solution."
He called the negotiation "a relief. The last three weeks I've been waking up at 3 a.m. wondering about this and worrying about that."
Avoiding the death penalty for Ethridge was the only victory he hoped for in the case, he said.
"Certainly in any capital case, the primary goal is to get out from under the death penalty," Richards said. "We knew we weren't going to win the case.
"He killed two people. We know that. We were going to admit that to the jury. He gave police the gun and his bloody clothes. He handed them the case on a silver platter.
"He shouldn't get off scot-free, and he isn't, but the thing is, this guy shouldn't die, plain and simple. The meds he was taking we now know have these kinds of side effects."
Ethridge makes the third defendant Richards has saved from death row in two years.
The first was Glenn Howard Griffin in 2008 in a Brigham City homicide, followed by Riqo Perea earlier this year in a gang-related double homicide. Both are serving life without parole prison terms.