An Oklahoma man accused in the deaths of his ex-girlfriend and her four children pleaded guilty Friday to five counts of first-degree murder, thus avoiding a death sentence.
Joshua Durcho, 29, entered the guilty pleas before Canadian County District Judge Gary Miller. Durcho agreed to serve five consecutive life prison terms without the possibility of parole.
Durcho was accused in the January 2009 deaths of 25-year-old Summer Rust and her children — 3-year-old Evynn Garas, 4-year-old Teagin Rust and 7-year-old daughters Kirsten and Autumn Rust — in the family's El Reno apartment. All of the victims died from "ligature strangulation," meaning they were strangled with something that left marks on their necks, according to autopsies performed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Prosecutors said Durcho also sexually abused the 7-year-old girls.
Jury selection for his trial had been set to begin Monday and prosecutors had sought the death penalty.
Last month, Dr. Shawn Roberson, a forensic psychologist with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, testified that Durcho's mental functioning was "at the low borderline range." Nonetheless, Miller rejected claims that Durcho is mentally disabled and ineligible for the death penalty.
Oklahoma law bars death sentences if a defendant meets the state definition of mental retardation, which includes an IQ of 70 or below and "significant limitations in adaptive functioning," the real-life communications, self-care and work and social skills people need to live independently and function safely and appropriately. In addition, the onset of mental retardation must occur before the age of 18.
Roberson said Durcho has been administered four IQ tests since he was 11 years old and scored between 72 and 78 on the tests. The most recent tests were administered in 2009 and 2010, and Durcho scored 72 on both.
Although Miller rejected a defense motion to bar the death penalty in the case, defense attorneys could present the evidence again to jurors during Durcho's trial.