Teen pleads guilty to first-degree murder of 68-year-old man
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IDAHO FALLS — A local teenager has pleaded guilty to a first-degree murder committed a day before his 18th birthday.
Westley Jonathon Hightower appeared in a Bonneville County court Tuesday after agreeing to plead guilty to the charge. Hightower shot and killed Larry H. Powell on Sept. 28 inside his home on Ammon Road.
The guilty plea was part of a plea agreement made with Bonneville County prosecutors that stipulates they will recommend no more than 27-years to life in prison. Defense Attorney Rocky Wixom will also recommend Hightower spend no less than 20-years in prison. The plea agreement is non-binding, meaning District Judge Dane H. Watkins Jr. does not have to follow the recommendations and could sentence Hightower to more or less time in prison.
Prosecutors have also agreed not to file additional juvenile charges stemming from other allegations found in a deputy’s report. Those juvenile records are not available to the public and were not disclosed by the prosecution during Tuesday’s hearing.
Wixom asked to have Hightower’s sentencing at least four months out because of his need for expert evaluation. Hightower reports his reading level to be at a fourth-grade level and told Watkins Tuesday he has an Individualized Educational Plan. Also called an IEP, the plan gives students special accommodations within a school district. Wixom says this doesn’t necessarily mean Hightower has a developmental disability, but Wixom has some concerns.
“I think my client does have some type of impairment,” Wixom said. “There are some issues that will require some intensive expertise.”
Sentencing for Hightower is scheduled for Nov. 8 at the Bonneville County Courthouse.
Investigators say in September, Bonneville County Sheriff’s deputies found the body of Powell inside the home after a person called 911 saying a man wearing a tan hoodie with dark hair ran after and shoting Powell. According to an affidavit of probable cause obtained by EastIdahoNews.com, soon afterward, deputies found 18-year-old Daniel Wood.
Wood told detectives he was only a witness to the shooting and that his friend, Hightower, pulled the trigger.
During an interview with investigators, Hightower initially said Wood shot Powell but then changed his story, saying he killed the man. Hightower is the adopted son of Powell’s wife and lived with them in the home.
Wood, who is homeless, told detectives he met Hightower just days before the shooting and had had conversations about killing Powell, according to detectives.
“Wood disclosed that Hightower offered him ‘some money’ and to live at Powell’s residence if he helped Hightower murder Powell and his wife,” according to court documents.
Wood told detectives the pair had a plan to dispose of Powell’s body, then sabotage his wife’s car to make it look like an accident. Detectives said this was in an effort “to murder her.”
About two days before the shooting, both Hightower and Wood admitted to previously trying to poison Powell in their attempts to kill him, documents allege.
Wood was also charged and he has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. A jury trial for Wood is scheduled to begin on Aug. 16.