Drucilla P. Ovard's relatives let out a long sigh of relief when Daniel Ray Troyer finally admitted that he killed their mother and grandmother almost 14 years ago.
Some shook their heads, and some wiped tears from their eyes. Others just stared ahead, in disbelief, perhaps, that justice could take so long."It's been 14 long years," Kurt Ovard, Drucilla Ovard's grandson, said later. "We've had a lot of ups and downs. Frankly, we were not sure that justice would ever be served."
Troyer, 39, pleaded guilty in 3rd District Court Friday to murder, a first-degree felony, for the July 17, 1985, strangulation of Drucilla Ovard, 83. During the same hearing, he also pleaded guilty to capital murder for the Aug. 17, 1988, asphyxiation of Ethel G. Luckau, 88.
In exchange for his pleas, prosecutors dropped a charge of aggravated burglary, a first-degree felony, in Ovard's case and agreed not to seek the death penalty in Luckau's case.
Troyer asked to be sentenced immediately, and Judge Pat Brian ordered him to serve a five-years-to-life sentence for the Ovard slaying and a consecutive life sentence without the possibility of parole for Luckau's death.
"Yes! Yes!" some of Ovard's grandchildren whispered as the judge pronounced the sentences.
The pleas came 15 months before Troyer, who had been in and out of prison since 1979, was due to be released Sept. 23, 2000, after serving 15 years for a 1985 burglary conviction. Brian said he will do everything possible to ensure that Troyer "never sees the light of day again as a free man."
"He clearly and undeniably represents a danger to this community and to any community of which he is a member," Brian said. "His criminal career is over."
Prior to sentencing, prosecutors reviewed Troyer's criminal history.
In 1979, Troyer was imprisoned after pleading guilty to attempted rape for raping a 71-year-old paraplegic woman confined to a wheelchair, said prosecutor Ernie Jones. He was paroled in 1982 and almost immediately went back to prison for a burglary.
Within 30 days of his release from prison in 1985, Troyer broke into Drucilla Ovard's East Bench house, 1457 E. Logan Ave. (1620 South), said prosecutor Ken Updegrove. During a confrontation, Ovard sustained head and chest injuries before Troyer strangled her. Two days after the slaying, Troyer was treated at Holy Cross Hospital for a broken hand.
The victim's son, Robert Ovard, found her naked and dead on the floor the next day. DNA analysis of evidence found at the crime scene proves conclusively that Troyer killed her, Jones said.
Exactly two week's after Drucilla Ovard's death, Troyer was caught leaving the house of a 70-year-old woman less than two blocks from Ovard's home, Jones said.
Troyer pleaded guilty to that burglary and was sent back to prison in August 1985. In 1988, Troyer was transferred to the Bonneville Correction Center and was released from the halfway house Aug. 17 to seek employment at a barber college three doors from Luckau's home between 8 a.m. and 2:14 p.m.
During that time, Troyer broke into Luckau's house, 357 E. 1700 South, and killed her, Updegrove said. An autopsy revealed she died from asphyxiation. The body was found in the bedroom the next day by a relative.
Troyer called his sister, Bonnie Troyer, two days after the slaying saying he needed an alibi for the morning the crime was committed, Updegrove said. But again, DNA analysis of evidence at the crime scene linked Troyer to the murder.
"He preys on elderly women," Jones said. "These two murders are almost identical.
Troyer also is suspected of murdering two other elderly Salt Lake-area women, but prosecutors say there is insufficient evidence to file charges.
Thelma Lillian Blodgett, 69, of South Salt Lake, died July 11, 1985 -- six days before Ovard. Lucille Westerman, 73, a neighbor of Luckau, died Aug. 23, 1988 -- six days after Luckau.
Troyer was charged with Luckau's murder in January 1989, but the charges were dropped two years later after former 3rd District Judge Scott Daniels suppressed crucial evidence, including a statement from Troyer's sister that he had asked her to give him an alibi; statements from two prison inmates who claimed Troyer admitted the murder to them; and DNA testing of Troyer's hair.
In 1996, the Utah Supreme Court ruled the evidence could be used against Troyer, and prosecutors filed a charge of capital murder, punishable by death, against Troyer in the Luckau case.
While the case was pending, the Utah State Crime Lab developed new DNA testing capabilities and matched evidence found at both crime scenes to Troyer. As a result of these tests, Troyer was charged in the Ovard case in May 1998.
Troyer was scheduled for a June 23 trial in the Ovard murder, but the DNA evidence apparently persuaded him to consider a plea deal last week. Defense attorney Ed Brass said he and Troyer were aware of the "abundant evidence in support of these charges."
Paul Luckau, Ethel Luckau's son, said he believes "providential intervention" helped his family endure through the "torturous time" it took to resolve the case.
Kurt Ovard said he spoke for his family when he said that he wished Troyer had received the death penalty.
"The revenge factor is a part of us, and I would have liked to have seen that," he said. "After looking at him in the court, it was obvious to me there was nothing behind those eyes that would say 'I'm sorry, I know what I did was wrong.' "