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Utah squatter suspected in Dylan Rounds’ death pleads guilty to murder charge

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The Utah squatter suspected of killing a 19-year-old who struck out on his own farm two years ago admitted to shooting the teen in the head on a rainy day as he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a Brigham City court Wednesday.

James Brenner, 60, had long been suspected of killing the teen, but evidence was scarce until investigators found Dylan Rounds’ phone, and a timelapse video that showed the killer covered in blood and cleaning a gun.

“That phone told us a lot, besides having the video on it and the data,” Rounds’ mother Candice Cooley previously told Fox News Digital. “Amazing they got the video off of it.”

Brenner, who shot another man in Maryland in the 1980s in a work dispute, is already a convicted felon who is barred for life from owning guns. He was squatting on land near Rounds’ farm, police have said.

UTAH SQUATTER TAKES PLEA DEAL IN TEEN FARMER’S MURDER, LEADS DETECTIVES TO ‘SKELETAL REMAINS’

Dylan Rounds

Dylan Rounds, 19, was last seen in Lucin, Utah, on May 25, 2022, authorities said. (Box Elder County Sheriff’s Office)

As previously reported, the transient killer agreed to divulge the location of Rounds’ remains in exchange for reduced charges, dramatically reducing his prison sentence. His charge of first-degree felony aggravated murder was reduced to second-degree felony murder.

Prosecutors dismissed a desecration of human remains charge as well as an unrelated assault case. 

James Brenner exits the courtroom in Box Elder County, Utah

James Brenner exits the courtroom in Box Elder County, Utah, in July 2023. Brenner is charged with the murder of 19-year-old Dylan Rounds, whose remains were recovered on Tuesday, April 9, 2024, nearly two years after his death. (EastIdahoNews.com)

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However, he is expected to spend decades in prison on the state charges and a federal felony in possession of a firearm guilty plea. The sentences must be served consecutively, not concurrently, according to prosecutors.

“Being able to bring Dylan home and bring this prosecution to a successful conclusion is a great relief,” Box Elder County Attorney Stephen Hadfield said in a statement. “It has been amazing to see what the tireless and unrelenting efforts of so many different people can accomplish.”

Dylan Rounds in a hat and hoodie

Dylan Rounds, a 19-year-old Idaho native who struck off on his own as a farmer in Utah, is pictured in an undated family photo. His suspected killer, James Brenner, pleaded guilty Wednesday. (Box Elder County Sheriff’s Department)

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More than 30 law enforcement agencies from Utah and elsewhere assisted in the case, he said. Additionally, Rounds’ family put up a six-figure reward as volunteers spent weeks searching the cave-lined, rural area.

Rounds vanished in May 2022 after telling his grandmother he had to park his grain truck in a shelter because it started to rain.

Brenner was living in a trailer set up on land near the shelter without the owner’s permission, squatting there.

Rounds bottle feeding pigs as a youngster

Candice Cooley says her son Dylan Rounds is singularly focused on farming. (Candice Cooley)

After Brenner confessed to the slaying, the Box Elder County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI recovered his remains near Lucin, where the teen had a farm about 200 miles from Salt Lake City.

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The Idaho native grew up as a farmer and had just planted the first crop on his own land when he was killed, his mother said.

He avoided video games, did not use drugs and stayed off social media.

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Cooley is calling on Utah voters to push for stiffer punishments for violent criminals.

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