Two undocumented immigrants will reportedly serve almost four decades behind bars for the fatal beating of a 90-year-old rural Minnesota man.
On May 6, Edson Celin-Dominguez Benitez, 29, and Reinol Godines Vergara, 35, were each sentenced to 37 years and 5 months in prison for the murder of Earl Olander in Carver County, Minnesota, KSTP reported.
Benitez and Vergara, who are in the U.S. illegally, met Olander when they painted his house in the early spring of 2015. They returned to rob Olander, viewing him as "an easy target because he was an old man that lived alone and had money," according to the charges levied against the two men in May 2015, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
On April 9 or 10 of 2015, the pair entered Olander's farmhouse through an unlocked back door and found the elderly man asleep on the couch. They covered his head with a blanket and beat him with the butt of a shotgun before ransacking the house, authorities said.
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"Mr. Olander struggled with the men," Carver County Attorney Mark Metz told the Star Tribune. "They beat him in the face, head and body."
Olander suffered for hours before he died from the beating, according to prosecutors. Officers found the slain man on April 11, 2015.
"Olander’s body was bound behind his back with duct tape [that] appeared to be stretched and worn, indicating Olander attempted to free himself," the police report read, per the Star-Tribune.
"There was also duct tape on both ankles, although his ankles were not bound together when police arrived. ... There was significant blood on the carpet [that] formed a large arch pattern, indicating his body has moved back and forth.”
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Benitez and Vergara made off with an old Bible, coins, silverware and two-dollar bills.
The Bible is what led to the pair's undoing. When a tipster was cleaning a recently-vacated apartment that Benitez had been renting, he reportedly found two $1,000 savings bonds in Olander's name inside the Bible. The tipster conducted an internet search to find Olander's address with the intent of returning the bonds; he then saw news articles about the Carver County man's murder.
The tipster called police about the discovery, and investigators said it was a key piece of evidence that led to the arrest and eventual conviction of Benitez and Vergara.
Bill Boecker, a neighbor and friend of Olander, told the Star-Tribune it was "quite ironic that it was the Bible" that led to the major break in the case and justice for the Olander family.
The 90-year-old victim's relatives were among those who attended the sentencing hearing, KSTP reported.
"What happened to my uncle was pure evil," Mary Rothfusz, Olander's niece, said.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement placed detainers on Vergara and Benitez when they were arrested, a common procedure when suspects are undocumented immigrants, the Star-Tribune noted. The detainers prevent the suspects from posting bail and leaving the country without facing trial.
Both men have been previously convicted of driving without licenses and driving despite revoked licenses,while Vergara has an earlier drunken driving conviction.
Benitez and Vergara will likely be deported after they serve their sentences, the judge told the court during the sentencing hearing, according to KTSP. Both men showed remorse before they were led out of the courtroom.
"I just want to apologize to the family," Vergara said, according to KSTP, "I'm sorry for doing this, I know it will be very difficult to forgive me."