Suspect could get eight years, or life
MALAD, Idaho––Severo Luera, 39, the only person arrested in connection with a 2013 triple murder linked to pit bull breeding, dogfighting, and growing marijuana, “has struck a deal with state prosecutors that could get him out of prison in less than 10 years,” reported Madeleine Coles of the Idaho State Journal on February 8, 2019.
Apprehended in Utah in February 2015, Luera was initially charged with three counts of aiding and abetting a murder in the first degree plus one count of conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree.
Two-year-old & two-month-old survived
The victims, Brent L. Christensen, 62, his son Trent Jon Christensen, 32, and Trent Christensen’s girlfriend Yavette Chivon Carter, 27, were found shot to death on April 5, 2013 inside their home in Holbrook, Idaho, a crossroads town of about 400 people located west of Malad.
The three were apparently killed as long as 24 hours before an unidentified man who came to pick up several dogs found Carter’s two-year-old daughter sitting on the front steps.
Walking inside, the man found the bodies, found a two-month-old baby girl beneath Carter’s arm, and called police.
“It looked as if Carter was protecting the baby when she was killed,” Oneida County Sheriff Jeff Semrad told media.
Refused to name alleged killers
Luera in May 2015 pleaded not guilty to the four felony charges, then repeatedly changed lawyers and sought delays in the legal proceedings while insisting he did not actually kill any of the victims, yet refusing to name the men he said did the shooting.
“Law enforcement officers testified in April 2018,” Coles wrote, “that Luera had confessed to accompanying five individuals to the home in Holbrook where the murders occurred, as well as knowing which two of the five men pulled the triggers.
“Luera agreed to a plea deal with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office,” Coles continued, “in which the charge of conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree was dropped, and all three counts of aiding and abetting in the first degree were downgraded to aiding and abetting in the second degree.
“Waived right to appeal”
“Luera will remain incarcerated at the Caribou County Jail until he is sentenced on May 3, 2019 at the Oneida County Courthouse in Malad,” Coles added.
“As part of the plea agreement, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office sentencing recommendation for Luera is at least eight years in prison and possibly eight additional years, as well as a $2,000 fine,” Coles explained.
“If the judge chooses not to accept the plea agreement, Luera will be facing up to life in prison. Luera has waived his right to appeal the sentence.”
The triple murder case has been kept under unusually tight wraps from the beginning, and more so since Luera was arrested.
“At least one dozen officers from the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office and Idaho State Police were stationed inside and around the courthouse,” noted Idaho State Journal reporter Shelbie Harris on March 30, 2018, after Luera made a rare court appearance.
“Every courthouse visitor was asked to sign in and out when entering and leaving the building, access to parts of the building were restricted, and the door to the courtroom where the hearing was taking place remained locked and guarded during the proceedings,” Harris said.
“It’s a bit of a mystery why so many officers were providing security,” Harris mentioned. “Authorities would only say that the increased law enforcement presence was because of the high-profile nature of the case.”
Said Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen, “Based on the volatility of this particular defendant, I think the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office was very wise to exercise so much caution.”
Already facing alleged misdemeanor drug offenses in Utah when detained for questioning about the triple murder, Luera reportedly had multiple prior convictions, including for possession of a vicious dog, a class C misdemeanor, in Garland City, Utah, in 2010.
Earlier, Luera was convicted of misdemeanor drug possession in 2001, of unlawfully selling or supplying alcohol to minors, also in 2001, and of felony drug distribution in 2002, for which he was sentenced to serve a year in jail.
More busts expected, but did not follow
Sheriffs Nielsen and Semrad were confident when Luera was arrested that further arrests would soon follow. As years passed without more arrests, speculation developed that the other unidentified suspects might be trying to kill him and possibly other witnesses.
The triple murder followed major dogfighting raids in six other states on successive weekends, and preceded several even larger dogfighting busts that were apparently based on information gathered during the first round of arrests.
(See Arrest made in suspected dogfighting-related 2013 triple murder.)
Still unclear is whether there was any connection among the persons apprehended in the other states, the murder victims, and/or Luera.
64 chained pit bulls
At the Holbrook murder scene, sheriff’s deputies found 64 pit bulls chained in two dog yards. Both dog yards were visible in photographs taken from two county highways intersecting near the scene.
Also found were 38 marijuana plants, with a cumulative street value estimated at $95,000.
Bruce Christensen, brother of murder victim Brent L. Christensen, told media that Brent had served prison time for drug-related offenses.
Brent L. Christensen was also reputedly a professional dogfighter.
“Evidence at the scene suggests dog fights were held at the site,” reported Debbie Bryce of the Idaho State Journal.
Pit bulls vanished in previous local case
The triple murder came six years after the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department in August 2007 found as many as 34 pit bulls believed to have been bred for fighting on the premises of alleged marijuana growers Andy Ray Willard and Tiffany Willard, near Malad, the only incorporated city in the county.
Both Willards were convicted in November 2007 of manufacturing a controlled substance. Andy Willard was sentenced to serve two years in state prison; Tiffany Willard was eligible for probation after serving 180 days.
Dogfighting charges were not filed. The 34 pit bulls disappeared soon after the Willards were arrested.
Willards afraid to rat
Semrad indicated that the Holbrook murder victims were not involved in the Willard case, but the Willard case did involve possible murder suspects.
Said Semrad soon after the pit bulls in the Willard case vanished, “These are dangerous people, and the individual we arrested [apparently Andy Willard] has told us that. He doesn’t want to cooperate and give names, because he’s scared.
“We did locate what we thought possibly were some of the dogs that were stolen but the attorneys for the Willards would not allow them to cooperate with us and identify the dogs, because they were worried about federal charges,” Semrad told KPVI News, of Pocatello.
After the Holbrook murders, Oneida County Commissioner Max Firth donated food for the impounded pit bulls. The pit bulls had apparently not been properly fed in some time.
“Occasionally they would grind up the meat of a dog who died and feed that to the other dogs,” Semrad e-mailed to Local News 8, of Idaho Falls. “We found a dead dog in the freezer and a grinder nearby,” Semrad said.
Removing the pit bulls from the premises on April 8, 2013, the Idaho Humane Society reported that most were in “very poor body condition,” malnourished, with open wounds and a variety of skin, eye, and ear ailments resulting from neglect of basic care. Some had untreated broken bones.
The pit bulls were rehomed beginning in May 2013, with the assistance of the California-based organization BADRAP and the Best Friends Animal Society, of Kanab, Utah.
Terry Huffman says
Thank you for the well-written articles and all the other work you do.
Jamaka Petzak says
Nice people. Glad I don’t live anywhere like this. Sharing to social media, wondering why people get that way.
Good work, Merritt. I do have some questions and comments:
(1) Why or how is the marijuana growing relevant in this case? Is it linked to the behaviors of the dogs? Or is it more related to the character, behaviors, and state of mind of the suspect?
(2) In all of these dog attack stories, it seems as though an inordinate emphasis is placed on the chronological ages of the dog owners and the victims of the attacks. I don’t understand how or why that sort of information is relevant. They’re all people…IMHO it shouldn’t matter whether they’re 3 or 3 bazillion.
I encourage you not to be offended by – or react defensively to – the points I raise here. They’re not intended to question the difficulty, dangers, importance, validity, and value of the work you and Beth do, nor your passionate and unwavering dedication to it.
Thanks again for all the good work you do.
Merritt Clifton says
Re your first question, growing marijuana on a commercial scale is illegal in Idaho, as in most states, and in Idaho in particular has for several decades been associated with the same white supremacist factions as reputedly dominate several other aspects of the illegal drug trade, as well as dogfighting (and, in that region, cockfighting.) The victims of the Holbrook triple homicide may have been killed for motives associated with marijuana growing, dogfighting, or a combination of both.
Concerning your second question, journalists conventionally identify subjects and sources by name, age, place of residence, and occupation, to be sure that readers will understand exactly which person is meant when particulars of identification are shared by several. Even so, possible confusions of identity come up almost every day. In one dog attack case we recently discussed, a victim who was killed had the same first and last name, and middle initial, as two other people in the same town, one of whom lived in the same neighborhood yet was not related.
In the specific example of fatal & disfiguring dog attacks, the age of the victims appears to be a relevant factor for certain types of dog.
At one extreme, of the 98 victims of fatal & disfiguring wolf hybrid attacks we have documented since 1982, 79 were children, including 18 of the 20 people who were killed. This suggests that wolf hybrids almost exclusively attack victims of the size of their usual prey.
At the other extreme, pit bulls to date have killed or disfigured 2,416 children and 2,828 adults, indicating a distinct lack of inhibition against attacking anyone of any size or age.
Thanks for your thorough and measured reply, Merritt.