Woman admits Topaz Ranch murder
After spending a year in Douglas County jail on $1 million bail, Jeanine Mona Escandon admitted Tuesday that she murdered Topaz Ranch Estates resident Norman Welch in the fall of 2011.
Appearing before District Court Judge Tod Young, Escandon, 39, pleaded guilty to one count of murder in the first degree, admitting that she did “willfully, unlawfully and with malice aforethought, kill a human being.”
According to a guilty plea agreement worked out between Escandon, her attorney Kris Brown, and the district attorney’s office, the defendant faces three possible sentences for the murder: life in prison without the possibility of parole, life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years, or 50 years in prison with parole eligibility after 20 years.
Young set sentencing for June 27, a full-day hearing, and ordered a pre-sentence investigation report to be filed with the court by June 14.
Both sides of the case are free to argue at sentencing what Escandon’s punishment should be. Besides the pre-sentence report, the court may consider character witnesses for the defense, and victim impact statements for the prosecution, among other factors.
In exchange for Escandon’s guilty plea, the state agreed not to pursue other charges or enhancements. The defendant initially faced charges of open murder with use of a deadly weapon, and grand larceny of a motor vehicle.
She was accused of shooting 59-year-old Norman Welch between Oct. 28 and Nov. 15, 2011, stealing his car, and driving to Los Angeles, where she fought extradition for four months. She was returned to Douglas County on March 9, 2012.
Escandon originally claimed that she and Welch had argued, and that she shot him accidentally as he lay on the couch, not realizing that the firearm she was handling was loaded and cocked. She originally told authorities that she panicked, grabbed Welch’s car keys and drove to Los Angeles, tossing the gun out the window at an undisclosed location.
On Tuesday, Escandon said very little in court, answering the judge’s questions with a whispery, “Yes, your honor.”
Young reviewed the rights Escandon was waiving by pleading guilty, including the right to a trial, the right to confront and challenge the state’s evidence and witnesses, and the right to subpoena her own witnesses.
“When you enter a guilty plea, you give up the right against self-incrimination,” Young said. “Do you understand that if we went to trial, you would have the right to remain silent, and I would not use that against you and would instruct the jury not to use that against you?”
Escandon said she understood the rights she was waiving, including most options to appeal the case.
“Basically, all you have left to appeal are issues concerning the sentence you get, if it’s an illegal sentence,” said Young. “This is a serious offense, about the most serious crime we have.”
Escandon further acknowledged that the judge is not bound by any sentence recommendation and may sentence her within statutory limits, meaning she could receive life in prison without parole even if both sides recommend 50 years.
Additionally, Escandon agreed to pay the state $1,179.79 for expenses related to her extradition from California.
After the hearing, District Attorney Mark Jackson said he couldn’t discuss the case in detail but was pleased with the plea agreement.