SANDUSKY - Brandon Holt avoided a possible death sentence but will spend at least 40 years in prison after pleading guilty yesterday to the vicious rape and murder of a Sandusky woman.
Holt, 24, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years for the aggravated murder of Deborah Jensen, 48, on June 27, 2002. During a hearing in Erie County Common Pleas Court, Holt also received consecutive 10-year terms for single counts of rape and aggravated burglary from Judge Beverly McGookey, who called the crime one of the most heinous offenses possible.
“I can t imagine something more brutal,” she said as she gave Holt the maximum possible prison time.
Holt had been scheduled for trial Monday on nine felony counts in connection with the death of Ms. Jensen, an acquaintance whom he raped, stabbed repeatedly, and beat with a hammer in her home.
As part of a plea deal, the court dismissed death-penalty specifications and six felony charges, including two counts of rape, and single counts of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, and tampering with evidence.
Speaking during the sentencing hearing, tearful members of Ms. Jensen s family asked Judge McGookey to make the prison terms for the rape and aggravated burglary counts consecutive to the mandatory life term for aggravated murder.
“She was everything to me,” Ms. Jensen s daughter, Jamie, said in a halting voice. “She was my best friend, my mom, everything.”
Pausing to choke back tears, Miss Jensen then told the judge, “I just want you to give him everything, the maximum sentence.”
“Deborah was a good person and she didn t deserve this,” said Bobbie Fisher, Ms. Jensen s sister. “She loved everybody - everybody. He did this to her, and it s unbelievable. She trusted him like she trusted everybody.”
Asked by Judge McGookey if he wanted to speak, Holt said yes and addressed Ms. Jensen s relatives.
“I just want to apologize and say I m sorry for the wrong I ve done to your family,” he said in an even voice.
He added later, “There s nothing I can do to bring her back ... if I could take her place, trust me, I would.”
At the end of his statement, Judge McGookey asked Holt if he could explain why he killed Ms. Jensen.
“At the time, my life was just basically going downhill ... That s not an excuse, that s just how it is,” Holt replied.
The defendant s attorneys, Bob Dixon and Jeff Whitacre, and the Rev. Rufus Sanders, a Sandusky clergyman, asked Judge McGookey to issue concurrent sentences, saying that Holt was already working to turn his life around.
“We re not saying don t punish him,” Mr. Whitacre said. “He knows he needs to be punished. The question is, where is he going to be at 50? Where is he going to be at 60? ... The question is, what can we do in the next 20 years? I ve seen the transformation in Brandon.”
Mr. Sanders, who called Holt s crimes “egregious, immoral, and horrific,” said he took responsibility by admitting what he did and sparing the victim s family the pain of a trial.
“I see a young man who is only now beginning to take responsibility for his manhood,” Mr. Sanders said. “Your honor, only you alone have the power to facilitate real growth. You can bring life out of this regrettable and tragic circumstance.”
But Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter called for consecutive prison terms, citing the nature of the crime and Holt s prior record of offenses, which includes convictions for rape, theft, drug abuse, domestic violence, and possession of criminal tools.
Mr. Baxter said Holt beat Ms. Jensen, the shelter manager for the Erie County Humane Society, so severely that she suffered three skull fractures. He also stabbed her 21 times.
The prosecutor said the decision to make a plea bargain “was very tough.”