Dyna Marie Strickland, 32, and Christopher Ray Roberts, 29,both appeared before Circuit Judge Brian Howell this morning at the Cleburne County Courthouse to enter their guilty pleas under an agreement with prosecutors.
Strickland pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of felony murder. Howell sentenced her to 25 years in prison.
Roberts pleaded guilty to felony murder and first-degree robbery. Howell sentenced him to two consecutive life sentences, the maximum sentences for the crimes.
The two were arrested 42 hours after the shooting, which took place June 13, 2011. They were charged with capital murder after confessing to the robbery of Cheaha Country Store and the murder of the 53-year-old store owner, Joe Thorson, according to the Cleburne County Sheriff’s Office. They could have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole or execution if convicted of capital murder, said District Attorney Brian McVeigh.
A friend of the family who declined to be identified said Thorson’s wife, Ann, was too distraught to attend the hearing.
McVeigh said Thorson’s wife gave her blessing to the plea agreement.
“She was a grieving widow,” McVeigh said. “She wanted the people who killed her husband in jail and she wanted to put this behind her.”
Strickland will serve her sentence at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, said Randy Payne, one of her attorneys.
Strickland entered a best-interest plea of guilty, said her attorneys. That means, said her attorney Bill Miller, that she recognized she probably would have been found guilty. There was however some disputed evidence about her role in the crime, so a guilty verdict wasn’t assured, he added.
Roberts pleaded guilty to the crimes and said he was guilty of them during the hearing.
His attorney, Dave Johnston, said the plea deal was a good resolution to a very sad case.
“He just felt that with the evidence that existed, that this was a fair resolution to a tragic event,” Johnston said of his client.
Both Strickland and Roberts will have a chance at parole. Strickland will be eligible for parole in about 13 years, said Payne. Roberts will be eligible after serving 85 percent of both life sentences, said McVeigh. He believes each life sentence will equate to 25 years, McVeigh added. Under the plea agreement, both Roberts and Strickland give up their right of appeal, McVeigh said.
Raymond D. Strickland, who said he was Strickland’s ex-husband, was in the courtroom for the hearing.
Their son is 7 years old now, he said after the hearing.
“She ain’t seen or talked to him in over 4 1/2 years,” her ex-husband said.
He and Strickland’s other two children will grow up without their mother, he added.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.