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  • The Independent

    Squatter admits killing Utah farmhand over where he parked truck and then burying body

    By Amelia Neath,


    A Utah squatter murdered a teenage farmhand after a disagreement over where he parked his truck before burying his body, a court heard.

    James Brenner, 61, pleaded guilty to the murder of Dylan Rounds on Wednesday at a court appearance in Brigham City.

    Rounds, 19, vanished on Memorial Day weekend two years ago. Before his disappearance, the teenager had made a final phone call to his grandmother – then was never seen or heard from again.

    Brenner had been squatting in a trailer on land next to where the victim lived, according to investigators. The skeletal remains of the victim were eventually found when Brenner led investigators to them in a remote area of the state.

    A video eventually found on the victim’s phone showed a blood-spattered Brenner cleaning a gun.

    Brenner appeared in court on three pending cases, including an aggravated murder charge for the death of Rounds. According to a statement from the Box Elder County Attorney’s Office, he entered guilty pleas to resolve all three cases.

    Candice Cooley, the victim’s mother, told KSL that the family was told Brenner had been "mad that Dylan put his truck in the shed that day.”

    “That’s it, just mad,” she said. “It was absolutely shameful that that’s what it is over, and then that’s probably all we’ll ever get out of him. There’s no legal arrangement that can make him tell us exactly what happened that morning.”

    Nevertheless, Ms Cooley added that Brenner’s guilty plea over the murder has given them some sort of solace.

    "We can take a deep breath now. We don’t have to wonder what the next phone call’s going to be," she added.

    Prosecutors had been working closely with the parents of the teenager to review “Different options and sentencing outcomes” to finalise the plea deal signed by Brenner, the district attorney’s office said.

    As part of the agreements on the plea deal, Brenner was required to tell authorities the location of Dylan’s remains. In exchange, he was only charged with second-degree felony murder rather than first-degree felony aggravated murder.

    The skeletal remains of Rounds, who had not been seen since 2022, were finally found in a remote area of Utah after Brenner led authorities to the site.

    The FBI and the Box Elder County Sheriff’s Office announced in a statement last month that remains belonging to the missing teenager had been recovered from the remote western Box Elder County area of Lucin.

    “We thank everyone for their support and love,” Ms Cooley told East Idaho News at the time. “We are grateful we now have Dylan’s body and can bring him home as we continue our fight for justice.”

    A second charge for the desecration of human remains was also dismissed by the prosecutor. A third case for aggravated assault, which is completely separate from the murder of Rounds, was also dropped as part of the plea deal.

    Alongside the guilty murder plea, Brenner also pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of a firearm by a restricted person.

    The final requirement of his plea deal is that Brenner will carry out each of his mandatory prison sentences, which he will receive on 1 July, for the individual charges in succession.

    "We’d definitely been waiting for it, right. It’s a giant elephant out of the room. It’s definitely a relief in that sense," Ms Cooley told KSL.

    Both the defense and prosecution agreed to recommend a minimum of three and a maximum of 30 years in prison at sentencing, according to East Idaho News.

    While Ms Cooley stated to the outlet that “more than likely, Brenner will die in prison,” she said that the way the law works has left them accepting that her son’s murderer will be serving under reduced charges as part of his plea deal.

    “It shouldn’t even be an option. It should be 25 to life,” she said. “But the justice system forced us into this type of plea.”

    Box Elder County Attorney Stephen Hadfield said in a statement that "being able to bring Dylan home and bring this prosecution to a successful conclusion is a great relief."

    "It has been amazing to see what the tireless and unrelenting effort of so many different people can accomplish. We wouldn’t be here without each of their individual contributions," his statement continued.

    Brenner was first charged in 2023 with aggravated murder and abuse or desecration of a human body for allegedly killing Rounds and then disposing of his body.

    Early on in the investigation, authorities had found a pair of boots belonging to the teen, with one having a blood stain splattered on it, according to charging documents obtained by ABC4.

    After DNA analysis, the boots were confirmed to belong to Rounds. Brenner’s DNA was also found on them, the outlet reported.

    Authorities also tracked down the victim’s phone, which sent its final signal at the Lucin pond. After a search of the pond, the phone was discovered, the charging documents state.

    A digital forensic download was carried out, leading to the discovery of the harrowing time-lapse video taken at the time of the disappearance.

    The shirt Brenner was wearing in the video was later analysed by authorities and the missing teen’s DNA was found on it.

    Brenner, described by court documents obtained by Fox News as a “family friend” of Rounds, was initially arrested in July 2022 on federal firearms charges, before being charged with murder in March 2023.

    Since losing Rounds, his family have set up a nonprofit in his honour to his memory, which strives to provide resources and support for families who are also searching for their missing loved ones, something they had to endure for around two years.

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