Shull gets life sentence for knife-killing man in bedNov 6, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
Convicted murderer Jeremiah Shull was sentenced to life in prison on Nov. 5.
Lander District Court Judge Norman E. Young chose the penalty over the only other choice for Shull's sentence - life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Young wanted to offer the 23-year-old Riverton man some hope for release.
"It's nothing more than a brief flicker of light at the end of a life-long tunnel," Young said.
Shull nodded his head as the judge announced the decision during a hearing in Lander District Court.
A jury in July convicted Shull of first-degree murder for fatally stabbing Jacob Willenbrecht, 27, of Riverton, last October.
The jury also convicted Shull of aggravated assault and strangulation of a house-household member for stabbing and choking his estranged wife Julie Cordell-Shull during the attack.
Young also gave Shull four to five years in prison for the strangulation charge and eight to 10 years for the assault. Both sentences will run concurrent with the life sentence for murder.
Willenbrecht's parents asked Young to give Shull life without parole.
"Jeremiah Shull killed my son in cold blood," the victim's father, Harold Dean Willenbrecht, said. "He didn't deserve to die that way ... I hope and pray that (Shull) be sentenced to the full extent of the law."
Fremont County Attorney Pat LeBrun argued for life without parole for the murder conviction and consecutive sentences for the other charges. He thought Shull should stay in prison for the rest of his life.
Shull stabbed a sleeping Jacob Willenbrecht after sneaking into a house through a window in the middle of the night, LeBrun said. LeBrun noted that Shull locked the bedroom door behind him so his victim could not escape.
"Your honor, that's as bad as it gets," LeBrun said.
Shull also showed no signs of remorse and had no possibility of redemption, LeBrun said.
"He does not have whatever it is human beings have in their minds that tells them killing is wrong," the prosecutor said.
Shull's father, Jess Shull, asked Young to give his son a regular life sentence with the possibility of parole.
"I would hope at some time he could have something of a family, of a life, and walk away from the events of this night," Jess Shull said.
Jeremiah Shull had a chance to speak at the hearing, and he turned toward the Willenbrecht family when he did.
"I completely and sincerely regret my actions," he said. "I cannot imagine the pain and suffering I've caused you."
He promised to devote the rest of his life to helping others.
"That's the only way I know to make amends," Shull said.
Shull's attorney, Sky Phifer, asked for the life sentence during the Nov. 5 hearing, explaining that the penalty did not guarantee his client would ever get out of prison.
"A life sentence is almost very realistically a life sentence," Phifer said. "The only way to get paroled is you have to get a commutation from the governor."
The defense attorney said Wyoming governors only have given about 17 commutations over the past 20 years. He also noted life without parole could mean 80 years behind bars for his client.
In describing the reasoning behind his sentence, Young said receiving parole would be far from automatic.
"If the governor never picks up his pen, it's life," Young said.
The judge also disagreed with LeBrun's assertion that Shull could never have any redemption.
"I'm not in any position to foreclose any possibility," Young said. "I just can't do it."
Death is also a possible sentence for first-degree murder in Wyoming, but prosecutors must decide early on in a case to pursue that penalty. The Fremont County Attorney's Office did not seek the death penalty in Shull's case.