Jan 30, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterJude Blackburn will spend at least 20 years behind bars for his role in the 2011 murders.
The last defendant in the case of a 2011 double homicide in Hudson pleaded guilty to reduced charges Thursday.
Jude Blackburn's plea was in line with an agreement stipulating he would serve a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 30 years behind bars.
All sides agreed to the lower number, but the maximum set on his term will be decided at a future sentencing hearing.
Prosecutors had charged Blackburn with nine crimes for his role in the slayings of Elva Charlotte Quiver, 20, and Eric Likes, 42, of Hudson, but at the change of plea hearing, they reduced them to a single charge of second-degree murder.
Roughly a dozen people attended the hearing in Lander District Court, including family members of Blackburn and the victims.
The audience heard Blackburn respond with a short "yeah" to several questions from District Court Judge Norman E. Young before standing up, raising his right hand and replying "guilty" to the judge's final question, "How do you plead?"
Blackburn's guilty plea nearly brings to a close a case stretching across two years and involving five defendants. His four co-defendants have pleaded guilty and received sentences.
All that remains is for Blackburn to receive a sentence, which will happen after a presentencing investigation is complete. His case had been delayed by his attorneys' attempts to move his case to juvenile court and to have him deemed unfit to stand trial.
Blackburn, who was 15 at the time of the murders, originally faced one count of first-degree arson and two each of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, aggravated robbery, and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery.
The court usually asks defendants who plead guilty to describe their crimes to provide a factual basis for their plea, but Young did not call on Blackburn to do so. The judge said an affidavit filed in Blackburn's case, testimony by his four co-defendants who pleaded guilty, and a statement Fremont County deputy attorney Patrick LeBrun read in court provided a factual basis.
LeBrun said that if the case went to trial, witnesses would have said that late in the night of Nov. 15, 2011, or in the early hours of Nov. 16, 2011, Joseph Jude Jenkins, who was 20, of Arapahoe, and Laziur Stephen Hanway Jr., who was 19, of Ethete entered Likes's and Quiver's trailer home in Hudson, and Blackburn stayed outside. Jenkins is Blackburn's uncle.
Jenkins and Hanway, Jenkins's brother-in-law, attacked Likes, causing injuries that would have killed him, LeBrun said, but the victim was still alive when Blackburn went in the trailer and struck him in the head with a dresser drawer.
"Jenkins and Hanway inflicted mortal wounds, however the blows to Mr. Likes's head, contributed significantly to his death," LeBrun said. "Jude Blackburn clearly did participate in Eric Likes's murder."
The penalty for second-degree murder is 20 years to life in prison, but in exchange for a guilty plea, prosecutors agreed not to ask for a maximum sentence of more than 30 years. Blackburn's public defenders will be able to request a lower maximum number at the sentencing hearing.
According to investigators and previous testimony from defendants, Jenkins and Hanway wanted to steal money from Likes to help Jenkins and his pregnant wife, Hanway's sister, Samantha June Hanway, who was 20, of Ethete. The couple had lost their jobs and were facing eviction.
Co-defendant Ryan Hanway, who was 22, of Riverton, helped Jenkins and Laziur Hanway Jr. try to rob the victims on Nov. 13, 2011, but did not participate in the robbery and murders two days later.
Jenkins, his wife and Laziur Hanway Jr. returned to the scene Nov. 17, 2011, and burned down the dead couple's trailer to destroy the evidence, according to testimony Jenkins gave during his own change of plea hearing in December 2012.
Blackburn's four co-defendants all pleaded guilty in exchange for lesser charges and have been sentenced. Ryan Hanway is serving eight to 16 years in prison, Samantha Hanway is serving 25 to 50 years, Jenkins is serving 70 years to life and Laziur Hanway is serving a life term.
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