Two brothers caught on video fatally shooting three people in a drug-motivated robbery in 2018 at a home near Dixon will spend the rest of their lives in prison.
State District Judge Jason Lidyard handed John Powell and Roger Gage the maximum possible sentences Tuesday in a Tierra Amarilla courtroom, their attorneys said.
The judge ordered the brothers — convicted of first-degree murder in separate trials for the deaths of April Browne, 42; Abraham Martinez, 36; and Kierin Guillemin, 27 — to each serve three consecutive life sentences.
Lidyard also sentenced Gage, 36, to an additional 21 years on related charges, including aggravated burglary, conspiracy and tampering with evidence. Powell, 34 — who was acquitted on the tampering charge — got 18 years on top of the three life sentences.
A life sentence in New Mexico is defined as 30 years; the brothers would be required to serve 111 years and 108 years, respectively, before becoming eligible for parole.
The heavy sentences brought slight comfort to the victims’ loved ones.
“Our family suffered through the cold blooded murder of my sister and her friends,” Browne’s sister, Jessica Duckworth McKeon, wrote in a message to The New Mexican after the sentencing Tuesday.
“We then directed all of our strength and energy towards taking care of her children followed by going through not one but two trials detailing the crime play by play,” McKeon wrote. “We are sad and exhausted. Judge Lidyard saw the evidence, heard the jury’s convictions and today for the first time heard our words. We are grateful that the maximum sentence was handed down and we all can breathe for the first time in 3½ years. It does not bring my sister back but it brings us some peace.”
The gruesome killings — all three victims were shot at close range in the head — were caught on video by a surveillance camera that Powell, a former housemate of Browne, had helped install, he said at his trial.
Powell said he and his brother had committed the killings after going to Browne’s home to pick up a few possessions he’d left there and to try to buy $40 worth of heroin from her.
But he offered no explanation for the violence.
He said the brothers didn’t plan to kill Browne or her friends or steal from them afterward, and he wasn’t certain he knew what he was doing at the time.
Powell’s public defender, Sydney West, told jurors at his trial he and his brother were raised in Taos by a single mother and he had become addicted to painkillers prescribed to treat pediatric osteoporosis. He later turned to heroin for relief from pain, she said.
West said at the time his story was “not unlike a lot of stories that you hear every day in this community.”
McKeon said the brothers’ defense attorneys “tried to blame their actions on drugs” during the sentencing hearing, but Lidyard responded, “There are a lot of people with drug problems in our county, but they didn’t do this.”
Browne left behind two teenagers, including a daughter who was 13 at the time and battling a rare type of cancer.
Her children’s father died in a car crash less than six months after she was killed.
“Many different branches of the family came forward to offer the kids care and housing” after the crash, McKeon wrote in a statement to the court. “They know they are endlessly loved, will always be protected and cared for, have a home. But that will never replace a mother’s role.”
“Not only did John Powell and Roger Gage take my little sister away from us, but their selfish act has caused a devastating ripple that goes on forever,” she wrote. “The damage isn’t done. the pain goes to my core. The sadness isn’t going away. We stay strong for her beautiful children, but a lot of lives were completely upended because those two men wanted a little heroin and maybe a little cash. Three lives for that. Countless lives forever affected, for that.”