A 16-year-old boy who bludgeoned a 10-year-old girl with a metal pipe and left her to die in a ditch may now spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Aidan Zellmer of Thornton, Colorado pleaded guilty last month to first-degree murder for the killing of Kiaya Campbell in June 2017. Zellmer, who was 15 at the time of the crime, was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years.
Campbell's father was in a relationship with Zellmer's mother at the time of the murder.
Zellmer and Campbell were both reported missing by Zellmer's mother at 11:50 p.m. on June 7, 2017. Police and Campbell's father quickly found Zellmer walking on the street without Campbell. Zellmer said that he had gone to a store to steal Pokemon cards and had lost track of Campbell while walking back home in the rain.
Police didn't think the story made sense, but Zellmer maintained he had done nothing to Campbell going missing. Police continued to search for the girl, issuing an AMBER alert on June 8.
Campbell's partially nude body, which had been severely beaten, was found by a resident nearby. When confronted with the news of the discovery, Zellmer allegedly erupted with emotion. Zellmer's clothes and shoes were tested for evidence and discovered to have blood on them, leading to his arrest.
According to an affidavit, Zellmer hit Campbell in the head five times with the pipe, then dragged her into a ditch, where she was later found dead. She was found naked from the waist down and police said there was evidence to suggest she'd been sexually assaulted. Zellmer initially had been charged with sexual assault in addition to murder, but those charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.
Zellmer never offered up a motive for the killing, but during the trial, Zellmer's defense attorney discussed his family's history of mental illness and alleged abuse, according to The Denver Post.
District Attorney Dave Young argued against those excuses.
“Fifteen-year-olds make bad decisions but they don’t commit cruel, heinous crimes like this,” Young said, according to The Denver Channel. “After striking her five times win the head with a metal pipe, he left her in a field. When he talked to police, he was calm, cool and collected. He misled and deceived police who were looking for her. This is a rare case. Thank God we don’t have other 15-year-olds doing what he did."
Zellmer will be held in a youth detention facility until he is 18 years old, at which point he will be transferred to a prison, according to CBS Denver. He is potentially eligible for a youth corrective program, which may reduce the time of his sentence.
Upon the sentencing, Adams County District Judge Sharon Holbrook noted that “Kiaya will not be forgotten."
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