Jarrod G. Wyatt pleaded guilty to first-degree murder by mayhem Thursday evening, just days before his trial was set to begin.
Wyatt will likely be sentenced to 50 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to the murder charge and an added enhancement of personal use of a firearm; both carry 25 years to life sentences he will likely serve consecutively. His sentencing is scheduled Oct. 4.
If the sentencing goes as expected, Wyatt’s earliest possible parole hearing would be in 50 years, Del Norte County District Attorney Jon Alexander said.
Wyatt, 29, a former mixed martial arts fighter, fatally beat Taylor Powell, 21, of Crescent City, on March 21, 2010, in a gruesome attack that involved mutilation.
In a strange twist, both sides agreed to the firearm enhancement to reach the anticipated sentence even though no firearm was used in the murder.
“A weapon was used, the fiction is it’s not actually a gun,” said defense attorney Jim Fallman.
The plea hearing was held at 6 p.m. Thursday. Del Norte County Superior Court Judge William Follett commented that Wyatt seemed coherent and asked if he had any difficulty understanding what was occurring before accepting the plea.
Wyatt said he had no difficulty comprehending but, “it just makes it difficult to help out the Powell family. I’m very sorry for what I’ve done.”
Alexander said he wouldn’t accept any deal that would result in Wyatt spending less than 50 years in prison.
“The day before, the defense had been willing to accept second-degree murder with 41 years to life, which was immediately rejected,” said Alexander. “One thing non-negotiable was a demand that Mr. Wyatt enter a plea to first-degree murder in which he admitted the killing of Taylor Powell was premeditated and deliberate and not the product of some drug delirium.”
Fallman said Wyatt took the plea deal for the chance to be released from prison in 50 years and to spare trauma for witnesses expected to testify.
“The decision was his,” said Fallman. “We were ready to go to trial.”
Fallman said Wyatt’s actions were not premeditated because his mind was unable to formulate intent as a result of ingesting drugs.
Wyatt, Powell and two other people drank psilocybin mushroom tea in the hours leading up to the murder, court documents state.
Wyatt’s guilty plea does not mean he acted with premeditation, Fallman said.
“Specific intent is a requisite element of those charges,” said Alexander.
Wyatt’s actions were not “knee-jerk” or a “heat of passion killing,” Alexander said.
Wyatt brutally beat Powell, removed his eyes, tongue, heart and cut away a majority of his face, sometimes using shears, court documents state.
“Those acts of dismemberment took over a half of an hour and were methodical, systematic and deliberate, which demonstrates a continuity of purpose,” said Alexander.
Wyatt told authorities at the time that he believed his friend was the devil.
He was facing charges of murder with special circumstances of torture and aggravated mayhem, using a deadly weapon while committing a felony, aggravated mayhem and torture.
Alexander previously stated he would be seeking life without the possibility of parole for Wyatt.
“Even if he was able to see his first parole hearing in 50 years at the age of 80, the minimal amount of time left on this Earth was a small price to pay in saving Taylor Powell’s family the agony of reliving his murder at trial,” said Alexander.
Powell’s family was consulted before the plea deal was accepted, Alexander said.
“We were in full support of the decision that was made,” the victim’s mother, Kathy Powell, said Friday.
The plea deal comes two and a half years after the murder. The case was delayed by a dismissal of the charges and refiling, a five-month suspension while it was decided whether Wyatt was competent to aid in his own defense and waiting for several psychiatric evaluations to determine if Wyatt was sane.
The case has cost $217,812 so far with about $205,000 coming from the DA’s Office, said County Administrative Analyst Barbara Drew.
It cost $5,305 to house Wyatt in the jail and $7,046 in public defender fees, Drew said.
The total cost is expected to be recouped from the state, she said.
Alexander estimated the county saved $250,000 to $300,000 by not conducting the trial, which was expected to last two to three weeks.
“I’ve been asked by numerous people if we considered this a victory,” said Alexander. “Victories are defined by wins and losses and I honestly can’t tell you who won or lost. That said, what ... my office seeks to do on a daily basis is to deliver justice and I believe we have.”