DENVER - Joseph Hill received five life sentences and his brother, Lynell Hill, received to 70 years in prison for their roles in the horrific murders of five people who were stabbed to death at Fero's Bar and Grill before it was set on fire in 2012.
The Hill brothers had pleaded guilty earlier and their plea agreements require them to testify against an accomplice, Dexter Lewis, who's accused of leading the bloody attacks. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Lewis.
"I've been in the Denver DA's Office for 30 years and I've never seen a case where there were five people were killed at the hand of one individual," Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said in July when he announced his office would seek the death penalty against Lewis. "We have a man and four women that were allegedly laid down on the floor of a bar and butchered. Based on that, I think it's appropriate for us to seek the death penalty."
Denver District Judge John Madden handed down the sentences on Friday afternoon. The judge said, given the pending capital punishment prosecution of Dexter, he could not discuss the facts of the case.
"This this is a troubling case," was all the judge said.
Investigators say the five people were killed during a botched robbery motivated by Lynell Hill's need for money to pay for an unrelated court case. They only got away with just $170, according to court records.
Those killed were bar owner Young Fero, 63; Daria M. Pohl, 21; Kellene Fallon, 44; Ross Richter, 29; and Tereasa Beesley, 45. The Denver Medical Examiner said all five victims died of multiple stab wounds.
Before his was sentenced, Lynell Hill read a statement of remorse.
"Not a day goes by that I don't regret the lack of courage I displayed that day," he said. "Not a day goes by that you are not in my thoughts and prayers. All I can offer is my condolences."
"I accept my fate and face it head on. I pray you will find it in your hearts to forgive," Lynell Hill said.
Prosecutor Matt Wenig said the sentencing hearing was about the murder victims and their families.
Wenig read a letter from Young Fero's former husband, Danny Fero.
"It was a long hell nightmare come true," Danny Fero wrote. "I had to call my daughter and say, 'Your mother is dead.'"
The family of Ross Richter wrote, "True justice is not possible because nothing can restore Ross to us."
Joseph Hill's defense attorney said, Thomas Hammond said, "There is no winner in this courtroom. There is not a square inch in this courtroom where pain was not felt."
"I know the sorrow and remorse that Jospeh Hill has and will always have," the defense attorney said.
-- Firefighters responding to blaze found bodies--
The bodies of the 5 people were discovered when firefighters responded to an early morning fire on Oct.17 at the bar on South Colorado Boulevard. Police said they believe the fire was set to cover up the killings and robbery was the motive for the slayings.
Police said the killings were preceded by a chilling threat by Lewis.
"I'm going to get them bitches," Lewis angrily said to a man who later informed police, Denver Police Det. Mark Crider testified at a preliminary hearing.
-- Lewis had threatened to have informant killed --
During the March 2013 hearing, Detective Mark Crider said Demarea Harris, an informant for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, helped police unravel the case.
According to a search warrant released last summer obtained by the Denver Post, Lewis had asked his jail cellmate to find and kill Harris, members of his family and others he believed cooperated with police.
He also provided the cellmate with a hand-drawn map of the crime scene, which detectives described as accurate, and a second map with addresses and phone numbers, according to the search warrant affidavit.
The cellmate told detectives that Lewis pricked both their fingers with a pin until they bled and then pressed their fingers onto a verse in Lewis' Bible, according to the search warrant. As they pushed their fingers against the verse, Lewis told his cellmate, "blood in, blood out."
That's the same phrase Lewis recite to Harris after Harris witnessed the killings and then ran off to a nearby grocery store, police said. Harris told police Lewis kissed him and said he loved him and said, 'Blood in, blood out.'"
-- Informant details horrific killing of 5 innocent people --
Detective Crider testified that Harris told police he was with the three defendants smoking marijuana and listening to music at Joseph Hills' apartment on East Kentucky Avenue on the night of the killings.
Harris said he had known Joseph Hill a couple weeks and he had known Lewis a couple months.
After partying at the apartment, Harris said he and the three men got in a car and drove to Fero's Bar, Crider testified.
Harris sensed something was up when he spotted an Ironman mask and an Incredible Hulk mask on the floor of the car, Crider testified.
Crider said, "(Harris) made a comment about it being Halloween. There was no response" from the other men.
Then, as Lewis and Harris walked up to the front door of Fero's, Harris told police that "Lewis pulled down his shirt sleeve over his hand and used that hand to open the door," Crider testified.
Harris and Lewis began playing pool in the bar. Harris said Lewis was angry with two women at the bar.
Lewis pointed to a white woman drinking at the bar and said, "She had kicked him and his girlfriend out of their apartment," Harris told police.
Crider also said the informant told him that Lewis said the Asian woman -- bar owner Young Fero -- had once booted him out of the bar.
Harris told police that Lewis was "mean-mugging" and "mad-dogging talking" about the women, Crider recalled.
"I'm going to get them bitches," Lewis vowed, the informant told police.
Harris went out the back door to smoke with some of the bar patrons.
"They were nice people," the informant told Crider.
As Harris went to use the bathroom, he heard the rear door of the bar close, Crider said. He could hear people talking in the bar.
Harris came back into the bar to find Joseph Hill wearing the Hulk mask and his brother, Lynell, wearing the Iron Man mask, Crider testified.
The brothers were armed with handguns, the informant told Crider. The brothers and Lewis were all wearing gloves.
Harris said Lynell Hill was holding the Asian woman down on the floor, while Joseph Hill was running around looking for the cash register.
Lewis was beating a woman on the dance floor, the informant told police. Later, Harris told investigators that Lewis was armed with a knife.
"They put everyone on the ground," Crider said the informant told police. "They were trying to control everybody, yelling about wallets, ID's and credit cards."
"They pointed a gun and yelled. 'Get the tape, get the tape,'" Harris told Crider, referring to masking tape in the car.
Harris told police he dropped to the floor, too, because they were pointing guns at him.
Crider said the informant told them he saw the men stab several people in the bar.
When asked how many times they were stabbed, Crider said, "Numerous. (Harris) used a stabbing motion over and over and over." Harris said Lewis also stabbed the juke box.
According to Crider, the informant said that Joseph Hill stabbed the man at the bar and then he passed the knife to Lewis, who stabbed the women over and over. Then Lewis passed the knife back to Joseph Hill.
Lewis told Joseph Hill to kill the bar owner, saying "They couldn't have any witnesses," Harris told Crider. "(Joseph Hill) went down, slit her throat and stabbed her twice in the head," Crider quoted the informant's account.
Harris told police he jumped up and ran out the back door to nearby King Soopers. As Harris was leaving, he said he saw the three men breaking bottles and pouring alcohol on the victims, Crider testified.
Harris told police he got a call on his cellphone from Lewis' cellphone. It was Joseph Hill calling. The three men drove to King Soopers to pick Harris up.
Harris told Crider he noticed the strong smell of gasoline in the car. Harris told police Joseph Hill was concerned about his fingerprints being on the gas can. The men told Harris they had torched the bar, Crider testified.
All four men returned to Joseph Hill's apartment.
Lewis and the Hill brothers "started destroying evidence… And split up the money," Crider said the informant told police.
"They started cutting up gloves, putting bleach on items and burning items in a small pot," the informant said.
Lewis' girlfriend picked him up and they gave Harris a ride back to his hotel.
Crider said the informant told them, "Mr. Lewis kissed him and said he loved him and said, 'Blood in, blood out.'"
The informant told police he was stunned.
"These were innocent people," Harris said. "If they were gangsters killing gangsters, I wouldn't be here talking to you, but these were good people.”
Police asked Harris why the men pulled the robbery.
Harris told police that Joseph Hill wanted to get money to help pay for a court case his brother was facing. They decided to rob Fero's because Joseph Hill was familiar with the bar and knew there was not a lot of people inside.
How much did the men get from the robbery?
About $170, Harris told police.
One of the handguns used in the robbery was a .357-caliber purchased two days prior at a Bass Pro Shops, Crider said.
Under questioning, Joseph Hill told police what happened, Crider testified.
Joseph Hill told police he went behind the bar and used the butt of his gun to break the security camera.
"The cash register was on the floor broken apart. It was consistent with what Joseph Hill told me," Crider said.
Police later recovered a knife, gun, two masks and a red plastic gas can, Crider said.
Just hours after the killings, Lewis was arrested at Shepherds Motel. The brothers were arrested later at the Best Inn and Suites Hotel near I-270 and Quebec Street.