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PROVO — A Provo man who pleaded guilty to the murder of his aunt, then later asked to withdraw his plea, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for the crime as his request to withdraw his plea was denied.
Damien Candland, 23, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, by 4th District Judge James Taylor.
Candland was charged in the death of his aunt Amy Candland, 41, whose body was found by hikers in Hobble Creek Canyon on Feb. 21, 2010. Police said she had been beaten, raped and strangled.
Feb. 22, 2010 - Provo man arrested for aunt's murder
Feb. 23, 2010 Autopsy: Woman found dead in canyon was raped
March 2, 2010 Less serious charges filed against man accused of killing aunt
July 9, 2010 Charges elevated for man accused of killing aunt
Sept. 8, 2010Provo man ordered to stand trial for aunt's murder
Oct. 15, 2010Provo man pleads not guilty to aunt's death
Jan. 20, 2011Provo man pleads guilty to killing aunt
Feb. 4, 2011Man wants to withdraw guilty plea in aunt's death
July 21, 2011Provo man sentenced to life for killing aunt
Her nephew was arrested the next day after police matched duct tape on the body and footprints at the scene with a roll of tape and shoes found at the house where Damien Candland had lived with his aunt.
Prosecutors were threatening to seek the death penalty, but the punishment was taken off the table in exchange for the man's guilty plea. They also agreed to drop additional charges of rape, a first-degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony.
As part of the agreement, Candland was expected to be sentenced to life in prison without parole. But on Jan. 21 of this year, Candland penned a letter to 4th District Judge James Taylor saying he didn't know what he was doing when he accepted the plea deal.
"I only had a week to make a decision for the rest of my life, under all the anxiety, stress and whatnot. I was confused about what I was doing," he wrote. He went on to say that he felt he "can have a chance of beating this case."
He wrote a second letter on Jan. 26 saying that he wanted to "continue fighting" and expressing frustration with his attorneys.
New attorneys were appointed in the case, but Taylor denied Candland's motion to withdraw his guilty plea on the grounds that the judge had reviewed the hearing in which the plea was entered.
Defense attorney Ed Brass said little to the judge, noting that the sentence was a "foregone conclusion" as it was a part of the man's plea agreement.
Prosecutor Julia Thomas detailed the DNA evidence in the case and severity of the injuries sustained by Amy Candland and said her office never considered anything less than life in prison or the death penalty.
"There should be full confidence in the trustworthiness of this conviction," Thomas said.
She characterized Candland as "cold-blooded" and said phone records said he was unfazed by his actions.
"He was as unaffected by his recent actions of assaulting, murdering and dumping his aunt as he would be dumping the trash and I think, in his mind, that's what he'd done," Thomas said.
But Damien Candland's mother, Chris McCain, continued to adamantly maintain her son's innocence before the judge.
"I believe he should have the right to go to trial," she said. "The Damien we know that no one else knows is smart and loving, good to animals and children and he loved Amy."
Multiple times she expressed her love to her son and resolved to stand by him.
"I will be here until my dying breath," McCain said. "I will never turn my back on you."
The man's father and brother to the victim, Keith Candland, spoke of all the things he will miss about his sister and the way her death changed his life.
"My sister did not deserve the brutality that was inflicted on her back in February 2010," he said. "She was a kind, loving person and she was willing to give people a second chance and she gave you many, Damien."
The man's father, half brother and mother could be seen shouting in the hallway after the sentence came down. A court bailiff had to subdue the situation.