EL RENO — An Oklahoma man accused in the deaths of his ex-girlfriend and her four young children pleaded guilty Friday to five counts of first-degree murder, thus avoiding a death sentence.
Joshua Durcho, 29, repeatedly broke down in sobs as relatives of the five victims read statements in court. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, a deal that family members agreed to.
"The death penalty wouldn't have made me feel any better than him being locked up forever," said Rhonda Rust, stepmother of Summer Rust, the woman who was killed.
Durcho was charged with first-degree murder for the January 2009 strangling deaths of 25-year-old Summer Rust and her children — 3-year-old Evynn Garas, 4-year-old Teagin Rust and 7-year-old daughters Kirsten and Autumn Rust — in the family's El Reno apartment. Autopsies showed Rust and her children died from "ligature strangulation," meaning they were strangled with something that left marks on their necks.
Prosecutors said Durcho also sexually abused the 7-year-old girls.
"I never got to hear what she wanted to be when she grew up," said Crystal Franklin, the grandmother of 3-year-old Evynn. "This is a closure to part of my life. But I have the rest of my life to remember this terrible tragedy."
Franklin spoke directly to Durcho, who was weeping and had trouble standing at times. "I do forgive you and may God be with you," she said.
One of Durcho's defense attorneys, John Echols, said Durcho met with family members privately before the hearing. He said Durcho apologized to them, but does not remember much of what happened the day of the killings.
"Everyone in the victims' families felt this was a better resolution," Echols said.
Jury selection for Durcho's trial had been set to begin Monday and prosecutors had sought the death penalty.
Last month, Dr. Shawn Roberson, a forensic psychologist with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, testified that Durcho's mental functioning was "at the low borderline range." Nonetheless, a judge rejected claims that Durcho is mentally disabled and ineligible for the death penalty.
Oklahoma law bars death sentences if a defendant meets the state definition of mental retardation, which includes an IQ of 70 or below and "significant limitations in adaptive functioning," the real-life communications, self-care and work and social skills people need to live independently and function safely and appropriately. In addition, the onset of mental retardation must occur before the age of 18.
Roberson said Durcho has been administered four IQ tests since he was 11 years old and scored between 72 and 78 on the tests. The most recent tests were administered in 2009 and 2010, and Durcho scored 72 on both.
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