Murderer Pleaded Guilty To Avoid Death Penalty

A man admitted to killing a mother and her two young children when he pleaded guilty in court Monday morning.

Convicted sex offender Jaacob VanWinkle killed Mandy Folsom, 9-year-old Marissa and 5-year-old Mason inside their Canon City home in March.

His guilty plea means he won't get the death penalty. Some of the victims' family members wanted the death penalty and don't agree with the Fremont County district attorney’s decision to agree to a plea deal.

Folsom and VanWinkle reportedly broke up two weeks before the family was found stabbed to death. Folsom’s third child, was able to escape and call for help. When investigators arrived, they found Vanwinkle upstairs in a room, and a bloody knife in a shoe. They found the three victims downstairs, stabbed to death.

In court, four members of the victim's family spoke. They were very split on the plea deal, especially because it means there's no chance Vanwinkle could get the death penalty. Danny Stotler, Folsom’s brother, said his family is now "broken... [and will] never be the same without my sister and her kids."

Only 11 News got the autopsy reports which graphically described Folsom and her two children being tortured before they were murdered.

Donna Stotler is Folsom’s stepmom. She told us, she would gladly spend the rest of her life in court fighting, if Vanwinkle got the death penalty.

"I was just very disappointed that (the DA) chose not to seek the death penalty in this case and that the defendant was able to enter into a plea agreement," Stotler said.

Folsom’s brother, Danny, agreed.

"I believe that if he was such a man that he could take three lives, so awful and so heinous, that he should also face the music and stand up and say 'I don't deserve to live' and I truly believe that," Danny Stotler said.

Donna Stotler told us Monday, that Vanwinkle reportedly stole Folsom’s jeep just a couple weeks before the murders. When Folsom told police, that's when she and her family learned more about his criminal past, including the fact that he's a registered sex offender.

11 News talked with former prosecutor Brad Laybourne who told us death penalty case are tough because it’s really two jury trials. The first one will determine guilt, and another would follow to decide death penalty or life in prison.

"Generally if you can avoid a full-blown jury trial in any area of the law, you want to do that because it's expensive, it's risky, who knows what might happen, and then you have an appeal. If someone pleads guilty there's no appeal," Laybourne said.

Folsom’s teenage daughter and her mother, Dawn Wissel, said the plea deal will give some comfort to the surviving victim. "With the DA accepting this plea, maybe my granddaughter and I can do some healing without being up here... and re-living this murder," Wissel said. "It's going to take me a lifetime to try and deal with this."

The Fremont County district attorney didn't comment about why he didn't go for the death penalty in this case. The family told us, they talked with him extensively and he told them he did a lot of research, but ultimately chose to accept the plea deal.

Folsom's dad said he believes the death penalty has become more of a political issue rather than a judicial issue. He was referencing Nathan Dunlap who is on death row in Colorado.

Last May, a few months before he was going to be executed, Governor John Hickenlooper gave him a "temporary reprieve." That means Dunlap won't be killed as long as Hickenlooper is in office.

Twenty years ago, Dunlap went into a Chuck E. Cheese’s in Aurora and shot five people in the head, four died. He then stole $1,500 from the safe.

The other two inmates waiting for execution in our state are Robert Ray and Sir Owens for killing a man and his fiancée. This happened nine years ago in Aurora.

Colorado lawmakers have debated over whether or not to keep the death penalty in our state.

A few times over the past few years, they introduced bills to get rid of it, but they never passed. This man is the last criminal who was executed in Colorado, back in 1997. When Gary Davis was killed, it was the first execution in our state in more than 20 years. There hasn't been one since.

As for Vanwinkle, while he's not facing the death penalty, nothing is formally set in stone. The judge can still change his mind, and not accept the plea deal before Vanwinkle's sentencing on September 29th.

We'll continue to follow this story and let you know if there are any developments.