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A Sanpete County man avoided the death penalty Thursday by admitting to strangling his former girlfriend in April, and then killing a man he hated.
Donald Bret Richardson pleaded guilty in 6th District Court to two counts of first-degree felony aggravated murder. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors agreed to recommend that Richardson, 48, serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Defense attorneys James Valdez and McCaye Christianson said Thursday the resolution accomplished their goal of saving Richardson's life.
"For a long time he wanted the death penalty," said Valdez.
Added Christianson: "It's a peaceful resolution to a horrible, tragic episode."
Richardson admitted Thursday to strangling Annette Young, 46, at her Fairview home on April 10. Within an hour of the slaying, Richardson confronted Martin Cannon, 39, in the doorway of the victim's Pleasant View home and shot him in the face with a .38-caliber handgun.
Sanpete County Attorney Ross Blackham said he believes Richardson killed Young because their romantic relationship "had gone bad." Richardson left a note near the woman's body that referred to their failed relationship, Blackham said.
As for Cannon, he and Richardson were once friends, but there were "bad feelings, simmering and unresolved, going back several months," Blackham said.
Richardson "decided to settle the score" with Cannon when he did because he felt he had nothing to lose after killing Young, Blackham said.
Richardson's relatives have said he and Young were teenage sweethearts who had gone separate ways, and that Young was dating Cannon at the time of their deaths.
But attorneys on both sides said there was no evidence of a "love triangle" involving Cannon.
Valdez said Richardson and Young saw each other "from time to time," and that "old love feelings" could have sparked the homicide.
After the slayings, Richardson fled to Oregon, where his siblings and three daughters live. He was arrested there April 12 and subsequently confessed to police several times.
Valdez said Richardson's initial desire for the death penalty was prompted by his "extreme" remorse."
But Richardson now understands how difficult a capital murder trial would have been for his family members, Valdez said.
Blackham said neither of the victims' families wanted to go through a protracted capital murder case or the inevitable appeals that follow.
"This was a good case for us to get resolved," he said. "And it's good for the community because he will serve the rest of his life in prison."
A sentencing hearing is set for Dec. 19 before 6th District Judge David Mower.