Updated: September 4, 2013 at 7:04 am
A 19-year-old man who helped hide a double-murder suspect was sentenced Tuesday to three years in a youth correctional program.
Jerel Couch of Colorado Springs will serve his penalty in Colorado's Youthful Offender System, a medium security prison in Pueblo that emphasizes rehabilitation.
If Couch fails to complete the program, he will be transferred to an adult prison.
El Paso County Judge Deborah Grohs imposed the sentence after hearing from relatives of Whitney Butler and David Dunlap, the newlywed couple slain in January by an intruder in their Colorado Springs home. The couple's survivors described it as a fitting punishment and a chance at a better life for Couch, who has a record of juvenile offenses.
"For our family, it's the best we can hope for," Christian Butler of Denver said after the hearing.
His sister - who was pregnant - and brother-in-law David Dunlap, a Fort Carson soldier, were fatally shot Jan. 13 upon surprising a burglar in their central Colorado Springs home. Couch, who authorities say wasn't present for the crimes, pleaded guilty in July to accessory to burglary after Colorado Springs police say he lied to officers about the whereabouts of Macyo January, a close friend who was being sought on suspicion of committing the murders.
Under a plea deal, prosecutors tossed more serious charges of accessory to murder - in what Couch described as a wake-up call.
"I truly am sorry," he told the court in a soft-spoken address in which he noted the loss of "a family" and "an unborn child." "I will change my life."
Couch told interviewers in a pre-sentencing report that he helped January out of a sense of loyalty, according to testimony. Family members say he didn't realize how much trouble he was getting into until it was too late.
His attorney, Phil Dubois, had requested probation, saying that the Youthful Offender System is for repeat, violent offenders and could serve as a "school for crime."
In handing down her penalty, Grohs noted that Couch had failed on probation in the past, and said she hoped the chance for rehabilitation would mark an end to Couch's "life of drugs and crime and not really giving a damn about things."
The judge granted him credit for more than 200 days of time served, meaning Couch could be released to community supervision after roughly a year behind bars.
January was arrested three days after the slayings at an eastside apartment where Couch had also been staying.
Charged as an adult with multiple counts of first-degree murder, January faces the potential of spending much of his life in prison.
The deadly home invasion came amid a slew of unsolved burglaries in the newlywed couple's neighborhood, many of them attributed to January, who could be charged in as many as 20 break-ins, including one in which an elderly woman was beaten.
January is expected to return to court Sept. 24 for a special hearing at which his attorneys will request that his case be transferred back to Juvenile Court, where penalties would be far lighter. The hearing could last as long as four days.