ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Brandon Michael Phelps was sentenced to the maximum 20 years Friday, concluding events that began in June 2012 with the death of 92-year-old Lydia Ashworth.
Phelps, 21, was originally charged with four counts of aggravated murder committed in the course of rape, aggravated burglary, burglary and trespassing for his involvement in the murder. Each count of murder carried a death penalty specification.
Last month, Phelps' co-defendant, Devin Wayne Fuller, 21, was sentenced to life without parole after being convicted by a jury of aggravated murder committed in the course of aggravated burglary, aggravated burglary and burglary. The jury could not decide whether Fuller should face the death penalty, eliminating that option as a sentence.
On Thursday, Phelps elected to forgo a trial and enter an Alford plea, which allowed him to admit there was enough evidence to convict him but not plead guilty.
As part of a plea agreement, the charges were amended to complicity to involuntary manslaughter, a felony of the first degree. Phelps was also sentenced on a charge of aggravated burglary, a felony of the first degree, in a separate case.
During sentencing, Belmont County Common Please Judge Frank Fregiato said all available evidence was taken into account.
"This is not a compromise at all. This is where the evidence led," he said. "This is what resulted from the investigations and the evidence, not because of a compromise, and I commend Prosecutor (Dan) Fry for getting to the bottom of this, following the evidence where it led."
Fregiato said the seriousness of Phelps' crimes, lack of remorse and concern for the victims, prior record and failure to accept accountability were all factors in imposing the maximum sentence.
"This man poses a substantial risk of harm to the community of Belmont County," Fregiato said, adding he considered the minimum sentence. "I have considered that, and it's just not good enough and I reject it."
Phelps was sentenced to the maximum of 10 years on each charge, to be served consecutively for a total of 20 years with credit for his two years in jail, followed by five additional years of post-release monitoring. There is no possibility of suspension, probation or parole.
Fregiato also rejected a defense request to consider Phelps' indigent status and waive court costs.
"I do know that this individual was not involved in the injuries which caused the death. I do know that he was not involved in any rape. But I also know he has terrorized the good citizens of Bellaire and Belmont County," Fregiato said. "I have only one regret in this case. ... That the maximum I can give in this case is 20 years. If I could do it, I would give him exactly what Fuller got in his case."
Fry said the results of the case were satisfactory. He said although Phelps took no direct part in Ashworth's death, he also did not attempt to prevent it or to report the crimes.
"He deserves every single day of that 20 years," Fry said.