A teen boy faces a 14-year sentence after admitting Thursday that he helped kidnap his friend’s great-grandmother because they wanted her car.
Billy J. Underwood, 15, pleaded guilty just days after his former girlfriend was ordered to serve 2 to 2 1/2 years in a juvenile facility for her role in the November crime.
Underwood, dressed in red pants and a gray T-shirt, told Judge Alex Ekstrom that he’s guilty of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree burglary and theft of a motor vehicle.
The kidnapping charge includes aggravating circumstances that the elderly victim was vulnerable and the crime was deliberately cruel.
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Underwood has been held in juvenile detention since his arrest.
However, he’s being tried as an adult in Benton County Superior Court after another judge in December followed the recommendation of juvenile justice officials, in spite of the teen’s troubled childhood and drug use.
Dirt was thrown in the face of 86-year-old Hazel Abel as she opened the door of her Kennewick home on Nov. 2, according to Kennewick police and court records.
Her assailants waited until it was dark outside and unscrewed a porch light so she couldn’t identify them.
Abel was gagged, her face covered and her hands tied up, and eventually stuffed in the trunk of her 2001 Dodge Neon. Her Chihuahua, Tessa, was placed in the trunk with her.
Underwood, Dyllan K. Martin and KateLynn Kenfield planned to run away and wanted to use the Dodge, prosecutors said. Martin is Abel’s great-grandson.
Underwood and Martin discussed ways to kill Abel and dispose of her body, and Underwood even scouted canyons and remote areas where they could leave her to die from exposure, prosecutors said.
Abel had been in the trunk for about six hours, without any offer of assistance or water, when the teens stopped at a Walmart in Wood Village, Ore., to buy food and other supplies, according to court documents and testimony.
Once the car was parked, Abel freed her hands, found the latch to release the trunk lid and escaped with her dog. Store employees came to her aid, calling 911 and giving her fresh clothing and water.
Abel, now 87, attended Kenfield’s sentencing Monday.
The girl, who was 14 at the time of the crime, was convicted by Judge Mitchell earlier this month after a three-day Juvenile Court trial. He said there was some indication she was “acting under duress,” but also noted that they could have been dealing with a murder case.
Kenfield is appealing the verdicts for first-degree kidnapping, residential burglary and second-degree vehicle theft.
Martin turns 17 on April 23. He has a tentative trial date of May 16 on the same charges as Underwood.
On Thursday, defense attorney Dennis Hanson said Underwood considered admitting his involvement for a few weeks.
“I intentionally abducted Hazel Abel in order to facilitate the commission of a felony offense of theft of a motor vehicle,” Underwood wrote in his plea statement. He noted that it was “particularly cruel of us to put her in the trunk of her car for several hours as well.”
Underwood’s criminal history includes a residential burglary conviction when he was 12.
The standard sentencing range for kidnapping is six to eight years. Burglary carries a 3-year, 5-month to 4 1/2 -year term. And vehicle theft would bring a jail sentence.
Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor said Thursday he will recommend the 14-year sentence, which is above the standard range, because of the aggravating factors.
Hanson told the court he and Underwood do not agree with the recommendation, suggesting that the defense will ask for time within the standard range.
Underwood would go to Juvenile Rehabilitation until his 18th birthday, when he would be moved to an adult prison with the state Department of Corrections.
Judge Ekstrom has ordered him held without bail until sentencing May 12.