HASTINGS, Minn. (AP) — An Apple Valley man was sentenced Tuesday to two consecutive life terms in the deaths of his pregnant wife and the fetus she was carrying.
Roger Holland, 37, was sentenced on two first-degree murder charges after a Dakota County jury convicted him early in the morning. The sentences carry no chance of parole.
Through a statement read by his attorney Marsh Halberg, Holland denied the killings.
"He believes he is innocent of these charges," Halberg said. "To the day he dies, he will deny he did this."
The jury deliberated 11 straight hours before returning its verdict against Holland in the March strangulation of Margorie Holland, who was 15 weeks pregnant. The couple had decided to name the unborn child Olivia.
Margorie Holland's mother, Claudia Jones, asked for consecutive life sentences — one for her daughter and the other for the unborn child, the St. Paul Pioneer Press (http://bit.ly/1jfybjh ) reported.
Jones reflected on the life milestones Olivia would never see. She said the family would move forward by working to reach out and spread a positive message in Margorie's name.
"My heart is crushed, but my spirit remains strong," Jones said.
Marjorie Holland's stepmother, Barbara Brown, also spoke at the sentencing. Brown said the family welcomed Holland, who married Margorie three years ago, as a husband and a son. Now, they feel empty and betrayed, she said.
"We pray God will have mercy on this man's soul," Brown said.
Judge Timothy J. McManus said if Holland committed the crime — "and only you know for sure" — the only way forward for him was to acknowledge it.
"There were three lives lost here," McManus said. "Margorie Holland, the unborn child and yours."
Roger Holland did not visibly react when the verdict was read about 1 a.m. Tuesday. Holland was convicted of two first-degree and two second-degree murder charges. A first-degree murder conviction in Minnesota carries a mandatory life sentence and is automatically appealed to the state Supreme Court. One count of each charge applied to the death of the fetus.
Earlier, Halberg, the defense attorney, said Holland was disappointed and surprised by the verdict. The defense contended that investigators decided from the start that Holland was guilty and ignored other evidence or explanations, including the possibility that his wife fell down some stairs.
During closing arguments, the prosecution told jurors that the couple's marriage was falling apart and that Margorie Holland, 37, was talking about leaving her husband. Dakota County prosecutor Phill Prokopowicz said Roger Holland had been lying to his wife about having a job and that he would have been ruined had she left him.
Prokopowicz said Holland put himself in a difficult situation by claiming he left Margorie at home on March 7 to get breakfast and returned 20 minutes later to find she had collapsed.
There were no signs of forced entry, and Holland "created this short window of opportunity that only he could enter," Prokopowicz said. He underscored the medical examiner's finding that Margorie died of strangulation and had cuts, bruises and neck injuries that were not fatal.
Prokopowicz also said Internet searches about neck breaking and breaking necks from falling down stairs pointed to premeditation, the key element of first-degree murder.
Holland told first responders he found his wife's body at the bottom of the stairs. Either the searches were "an incredible coincidence" or part of a plan to try to cover up a murder, Prokopowicz said.
Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com