DENVER (AP) — The only person to face a charge in the killing of Colorado's prisons chief has pleaded guilty to providing the firearm to a white supremacist gang member suspected in the slaying.
Stevie Marie Vigil (VEE'-hill) appeared in U.S. District Court on Tuesday to plead guilty to transferring a firearm to Evan Ebel, the lone suspect in the March 19 slaying of corrections chief Tom Clements and the killing of computer technician and pizza deliveryman Nathan Leon two days earlier.
Even though there's no plea deal, a guilty plea could help Vigil, 22, receive a lighter sentence when she goes before a judge for sentencing Jan. 16. She faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Ebel wounded a sheriff's deputy in Texas before he died in a shootout days after Clements was shot and killed when he opened his door in Monument, Colo.
Prosecutors could present evidence of the slayings and the deputy's wounding to argue for the maximum sentence. Vigil's attorney, Daniel T. Smith, told U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello that Vigil has no criminal record and should face no more than 3 1/2 years in prison.
"Our position is none of that is relevant conduct," Smith said outside of court of how the gun is suspected of being used by Ebel. Smith added that there's no evidence that Vigil knew how Ebel would use the gun and prosecutors have not charged her with additional crimes.
Vigil originally was charged in state court, but Jeff Dorschner, a U.S. attorney's spokesman, said prosecutors decided on the federal charge because it carries a stiffer penalty. State charges have been dropped.
Vigil's attorney in state court, Normando Pacheco, previously said that Ebel forced Vigil to turn over the weapon, "or else."
Prosecutors said Vigil knew Ebel was a convicted felon because she had communicated with Ebel while he was in prison. They say she later gave him a gun in an apartment complex parking lot.
Vigil, in a dark red jail uniform, glanced at her father and other family members who were in court for Tuesday's hearing, and then she was led back to jail.
Nathan Leon's father, John Leon, and other family members were also in court. Leon said he hopes the sentence is long enough to act as a deterrent.
"This is the first time the system has a chance to work," Leon said. "If anybody out there is thinking about giving a gun to a felon who is known to be violent, you will be held accountable. You can't walk away from it."