In an unexpected move, Richard Allan Lockett, the Limon man accused of killing his estranged wife in Castle Rock in 2015, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Jan. 31, forgoing his jury trial planned for March.
The guilty plea carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole.
Lockett, 46, was accused of killing his estranged wife, Kirsten Lockett, 36, after what family members describe as years of psychological terror.
Prosecutors were braced for a 10-day trial scheduled in March.
"It's a pretty rare thing," said Chris Gallo, chief deputy district attorney for the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office. "If we had to do this trial, the children would have had to testify."
Kirsten Lockett's oldest daughter, Kayla Stitely, and Kirsten's sister, Chantel Schoneboom, provided testimony at the hearing.
"He took away my mother," Stitely said. "He tore our family apart."
Lockett's lawyers said he chose to enter the guilty plea against their counsel.
Lockett sat through most of the Jan. 31 hearing saying little more than "yes ma'am" or "no ma'am" to the judge. He made a brief statement before the court accepted his plea and a judge sentenced him.
"I'd like to apologize to my family for all of the hurt I've caused," he said. "I pled guilty because it was the right thing to do. I'm sorry."
Lockett had entered a plea of not guilty in January 2016. Members of his defense team said in July of last year they were contemplating a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity or mental defect.
On July 18, 2015, police responded to a domestic disturbance call and reports of an intruder in the Founders Village neighborhood of Castle Rock. Emergency responders arrived and pronounced Kirsten Lockett dead on scene.
Lockett allegedly followed his wife from Lincoln County to the Castle Rock home where she was staying with her five children, broke into the home and stabbed her to death. A few weeks earlier, a Lincoln County judge had ordered Lockett to stay away from his family.
Lockett's defense maintained that he was suicidal at the time of his wife's death, and went to the home intending to kill himself, not her.
Stitely described her mother as pure of heart and a beacon of hope in their lives.
"She had such a pure heart that she looked at this monster in the face and still tried to see the good in him," she said.
Schoneboom described Kirsten as a brilliant, emotional person who loved animals and people. And despite years of abuse, Schoneboom said, "She stayed fiercely independent."
"Now I don't have a sister, through the actions of Richard Allan Lockett," she said.
"She chose to love the wrong person."