A teenager who molested and murdered his 10-year-old stepsister was sentenced to life in prison, prosecutors say. On Friday, Aidan Zellmer, 16, pleaded guilty to beating Kiaya Campbell to death on June 7, 2017 in Thornton, Colorado and will be formally sentenced to life in prison in March.
Zellmer was also charged with sexually assaulting Campbell, but prosecutors dropped that charge and an additional first-degree murder charge in exchange for his guilty plea, the Denver Post reported.
Campbell’s body was found by a neighbor in a ravine approximately a mile away from her home on June 8, 2017, which was one day after she disappeared while walking with Zellmer from her home to a store. At the time of the murder, Zellmer’s mother was dating Campbell’s father.
Originally, the teenager told police that he ran and became separated from Kiaya when it began to rain. Neighbors have since disputed that there was a rainstorm on the night of her disappearance. When Campbell did not return home, police formed a search party to locate her.
Zellmer was arrested two days after Campbell’s body was found. Little information has been released regarding how Zellmer killed Campbell, but authorities said the girl suffered skull fractures and a broken finger.
On January 20, 2018, a judge ruled that Zellmer would be tried as an adult in court. ‘We obviously think it was the appropriate decision,’ said Adams County District Attorney Dave Young following the decision.
Days after it was decided Zellmer should be tried as an adult, the trial was delayed when Zellmer refused to leave the jail to be transported to the courtroom.
On January 26, 2018, Zellmer appeared in court with his wrists and ankles shackled. He spoke only in one word sentences, answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as a judge asked him if he understood his rights, the process, and whether he had any questions.
The trial was delayed again last October to give prosecutors more time to work with a consulting defense witness. ‘But I’m going to tell you what I tell all families in my courtroom…The result of this trial should be final and not create issues that might allow it to be overturned or cause other issues,’ Judge Sharon Holbrook said after deciding to delay the case.
Zellmer is one of the youngest individuals in Colorado history to be prosecuted for murder in the adult system. According to prosecutors, he will be eligible for parole in 40 years. ‘The emotions in this case have been high and quite frankly legitimately so,’ said Holbrook following her ruling.
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