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Killer silent before his sentence

Quiet man gets life in prison for 2004 death of troubled woman

SALT LAKE CITY — Before he was sentenced to spend what could be life in prison for the 2004 murder of 28-year-old Tara Brennan, Michael Jones had nothing to say.

And that is one of many things that bothered Frances Nilson, Brennan's mother, who did take the opportunity to speak Friday.

"I've lost my only child," Nilson said, "and the pain that this man has caused, it never ends. I have a lot of questions I would like answered, and he's chosen not to talk. And he has the nerve to say he has no remorse."

Jones, 43, stood quietly and largely emotionless as Nilson went on to describe her daughter, an honors graduate from Stanford who had completed her first year of law school when her mental illnesses led her to make "some bad choices" that led her to Jones.

Police believe Jones killed Brennan for drug money. Prosecutor Gregory Ferbrache reminded the judge of the "gruesome" crime that led police to find Brennan in the back seat of her car, dead with a belt around her neck, before he asked the judge to sentence Jones to consecutive prison terms.

"He does deserve to be off the streets," Ferbrache said. "This gruesome murder was committed for only $200. To ensure the safety of the people in this community and in the state of Utah, he needs to be sentenced consecutively."

Third District Judge Michele Christiansen did just that, sentencing Jones to two terms of five years to life for the first-degree felony charges of murder and aggravated robbery. Christiansen also sentenced him to one to 15 years for distribution of a controlled substance, a second-degree felony.

Jones was found guilty of all three crimes in February, almost six years to the day after Brennan was found dead.

Nilson spoke through tears when she said her daughter was "smart, talented, had a good sense of humor, sensitive" but also "fragile, naive and vulnerable." She said what her daughter wanted most was to be remembered, and she shared the names of those who knew her, loved her, remembered her and tried to help her.

Nilson spoke of one man who was "wishing he could have been there with her so he could have shot the sucker in the head" and another who "thought she was worth saving."

Nilson said Brennan's fragile mental state had led to drug use, and she left school in California to participate in a drug treatment program in Utah.

"I hoped she'd be safer here," Nilson said. "That was my mistake."

Jones told police that Brennan came to him at a homeless shelter seeking drugs, and he helped her buy crack cocaine, which they smoked in her car. He said the pair smoked a cigarette, and then he claimed he left while the woman was still alive.

Brennan's body was discovered by police in the back seat of her vehicle that had been parked at Poplar Grove Park, 1170 W. 800 South. The murder went unsolved for almost three years until DNA evidence implicated Jones, leading to his arrest in January 2007.

Jones declined to make any sort of statement in court Friday, and his attorney, Julie George, called the case a "pretty clear-cut issue" before asking that the judge sentence him to concurrent sentences.

e-mail: emorgan@desnews.com