MANTI — A man charged with killing two people in Sanpete County will avoid the death penalty, thanks to a plea deal.

But a prosecutor says the best way to resolve the case was to allow him to spend life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Donald Richardson, 48, pleaded guilty Thursday in 6th District Court to two counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of Annette Young, his one-time girlfriend, and Martin Cannon, an acquaintance.

One count of aggravated burglary and two counts of theft were dropped. The burglary charge was for allegedly rifling through Young's home after he killed her and stealing a gun, which he subsequently used to shoot Cannon. He was charged with theft for stealing Young's car.

Sentencing was set for Dec. 10.

At the judge's request, and with families of both victims in the courtroom Thursday, Richardson described how he committed the killings.

He said Young let him into her home just before midnight on April 10. Once inside, he said, he strangled her with his hands.

He drove six miles south to Mt. Pleasant, where he got a couple of drinks and then went to Cannon's trailer home, where he shot him in the face with the .38-caliber handgun.

After the crimes, officers began looking for Richardson in Arizona and Oregon. Although he had been living in the Mt. Pleasant area for about a year, he had ties to both states, particularly Oregon, where he grew up.

The next day, police identified Richardson on surveillance video at a gas station in Burns, Ore. Around midnight on April 11, Richardson turned himself in to Douglas County sheriff's deputies.

Sanpete County Attorney Ross Blackham said he spent the past several months analyzing whether to seek the death penalty in the case.

Richardson had confessed to Oregon authorities. And physical and circumstantial evidence strongly linked him to the crime, Blackham said. So he believed the defense would have had a difficult time disproving the slayings.

But proving the case qualified for the death penalty would have been more problematic, Blackham said. The most viable grounds, he said, was that Richardson planned to commit both murders — that they were part of a "common scheme."

Blackham said Richardson's attorney had warned that he was prepared to challenge whether Blackham "could connect the dots on that."

Blackham said another compelling factor in his decision not to pursue the death penalty was that the victims' families approved of a life-without-parole sentence, and "one family almost insisted on it."

He said neither family wanted a prolonged case, especially the years of appeals that typically follow a death sentence.

Now that Richardson has pleaded guilty, the motive for the killings is likely to "remain a mystery to everyone but Mr. Richardson," Blackham said. However, officers have said it did not appear a love triangle was involved.

Richardson's attorney, James Valdez, said Richardson initially wanted to die. "That was his position at the time of his

confession" in Oregon, he said. But family members convinced him the life sentence was preferable.

"We hope he may be able to transfer to Oregon (to serve his time) so he will be able to have visits with family," Valdez said.

While the judge did not ask Richardson to make any statement other than admitting to the crimes, Valdez said his client expects to speak at his sentencing.

"He's anxious to apologize to the families and to express his regret and remorse," his attorney said.


E-mail: suzanne@sanpetemessenger.com