Courts - Colorado Man pleads guilty in 13-year-old's death, gets 48 years Afterwards, invited court, including girl's family, to recite the Lord's Prayer

By P. Solomon Banda

Associated Press Writer

BROOMFIELD, Colo. (AP) -- A Colorado man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of a 13-year-old girl Monday then professed his unending love for the slain middle school student and tried leading her family in prayer.

Alexander "Alex" Paul Pacheco, 19, was sentenced to 48 years in prison and five years parole in the death of Kelsey Shannon, who vanished in October 2008 and initially had been reported as a runaway.

Her decomposing body was found nearly three months later in a ditch a short walk from her house in Broomfield, northwest of Denver. Pacheco, then 18 years old, told Shannon's parents he was 14 years old, according to prosecutors. He killed the girl after her parents found out his true age and asked her to call off the relationship, prosecutors said.

"I was and always am in love with Kelsey," the soft-spoken Pacheco said Monday before dozens of people packed in a tiny Colorado courtroom. "That's something that no one can take away from me."

Pacheco also pleaded guilty to one count of retaliation against a witness for an alleged threat that happened while he was in jail. District Judge John Popovich ordered Pacheco to serve 20 years in prison and five years parole in that charge, which will be served at the same time as the murder charge. Prosecutors dropped all other charges, including first-degree murder, child abuse resulting in death, abuse of a corpse, a sex assault charge that happened while in jail and a 2008 theft charge in which Shannon was listed as a witness.

Prosecutors say Pacheco bragged to his friends about choking and stabbing the girl in the neck to make sure she was dead, then had sex with her corpse.

Pacheco invited those in court, including Shannon's family, to recite the Lord's Prayer with him and he read several Bible passages as he made a statement before sentencing. Without explanation, he described his actions Monday as "a brave, selfless act of love."

"I'm not sure any rational mind could grasp what he was saying," District Attorney Don Quick, whose office prosecuted the case, told The Associated Press. "You don't lie about your age so you can date a 13-year-old and you don't kill someone and violate their body and leave them in a bog for three months. That's not love. What Kelsey's family did for her over the 13 years of her life, that's love."

Shannon's family left the courtroom without commenting on Pacheco's statement.

Her parents, Dottie and Tom Shannon, told Popovich about how they knew Pacheco for about two months during the summer and early fall of 2008. He would ride up to their home on his bicycle wearing a hoodie, and he hung out with their daughter in their living room. The two watched television and movies and took an occasional walk to a nearby grocery store and around the neighborhood.

"We felt that the relationship between Alex and Kelsey was supervised because the time they spent together took place in our home," a tearful Tom Shannon said in court.

Once the Shannon's found out that Pacheco had lied about his age, they asked their daughter to end the relationship.

"We found out from her that he was unwilling to let her go," Dottie Shannon said.

Other members of Kelsey Shannon's family described her as giggly, gorgeous and quirky with a flare for the dramatic. At times, she was sassy and argumentative toward her parents, the family members said. She was asked to be a student assistant at her school the day she went missing.

"People are supposed to make mistakes and live to learn from them," said Angie Horn, Shannon's older sister.

Once Shannon was reported missing, prosecutors said Pacheco helped post fliers, drove around with Dottie Shannon as she searched for her daughter and attended candlelight vigils. Meanwhile, prosecutors said Pacheco was showing a lock of Kelsey's hair to his friends and bragging that he killed her.

He also bragged about the slaying after his arrest, prosecutor Cynthia Kowert said in court.

"This defendant made not just bad decisions, he made decisions that were, evil," Kowert said in court.

Pacheco's family extended condolences to the Shannons and expressed unconditional love for Alex Pacheco, saying they hoped the Shannon family would forgive him.

Pacheco's father, Gene Chavez, said after sentencing that he would have preferred that his son took the case to trial.

Published: Wed, Apr 28, 2010