The tragic saga of a Colorado Springs man's death by hatchet drew to a close Thursday as the second of two men convicted in the brutal slaying received a life sentence without parole.
Jordan Rowland, who was arrested with victim William C. Mickle's severed finger in his pocket, told the dead man's relatives he wished they were present for the Aug. 16, 2011, slaying so they would know "the truth."
According to prosecutors, however, it was only the latest dodge by the 20-year-old convict, who in talks with police, therapists and cellmates implicated a revolving cast of homeless friends and associates, including his teenage runaway girlfriend.
"He's spent most of his young life in and out of jail," said prosecutor Jennifer Viehman, who recounted "the many stories of Jordan Rowland" before detailing his criminal history, which includes convictions in Juvenile Court for putting screws in a teacher's coffee mug and for sexually assaulting a female relative.
Rowland, who smiled on his way into the courtroom, was convicted of killing the 20-year-old Mickle with more than 20 blows from a hatchet and a slash wound in the throat.
Mickle's body was found the next day, buried under cut branches in a wooded ravine off South Nevada Avenue, so badly mangled that an open-casket funeral would be impossible. His mother, Deborah, said during a tearful address that she instead took a funeral director's advice and had her son cremated.
An El Paso County jury rejected defense attorneys' claims that Rowland was a bit player in the killing they said was actually committed by two different men. One of their alternate suspects, Roger Julius "Brooklyn" Glover, 37, was also convicted of first-degree murder last year on allegations that he put a hit out on Mickle, whom he suspected of being a snitch, and that he tapped Rowland to carry out the killing.
Police and prosecutors say the evidence pointed to Rowland as the sole participant in Mickle's grisly death.
Sobs filled the gallery as relatives recounted Mickle's abbreviated life and confronted the horror of his death.
Even as a boy, Mickle was kindhearted, they recalled. He helped an elderly neighbor with lawn chores and patiently taught younger cousins how to play video games. He would make sandwiches for his mother, a hairdresser who raised Mickle alone after her divorce from Mickle's father.
As a teenager Mickle struggled with bipolar disorder. After his 2009 graduation from Harrison High School, he moved out of his mother's house, seeking independence, and went off his medication.
As time passed, Mickle ended up on the streets, where he fell in with homeless friends who spent their days in Acacia Park - including Rowland and Glover.
Robert Mickle, who addressed the court by phone, said Rowland robbed Mickle's family of the chance to see "the man he would have become."
"Parents are not supposed to bury their children," he said, telling Rowland he had upset the natural order. "William had a right to live out life on Earth. His life was priceless."
Wearing a shirt that read "Gone But Not Forgotten," Deborah Mickle spoke of her sleepless nights dwelling on her son's violent death, seeing a hatchet "go through his flesh."
"My son died trying to see the good in you but there was nothing to find," she told Rowland before wishing on him a life of torment in prison.
Said Vicki Crago, William Mickle's great aunt: "We are not a violent family, but the evil that came out of you touched us."
In handing down the mandatory life sentence, Judge David Gilbert described Mickle and Rowland as "two young men who were really lost and trying to find out who they were going to become" - and told Rowland that in killing Mickle, he killed both men's hopes.
Although any release from prison is barred by law, Gilbert urged Rowland to reflect on the crime and one day tell his story to other young people, calling it the "only hope for your future."
No one spoke in Rowland's support. After he left court, shackled, Mickle's relatives exchanged tearful embraces with Viehman and prosecutor Beth Reed and took turns thanking others involved in the prosecutions.
Getting justice for William Mickle would allow him to rest in peace, said Deborah Mickle, as she expressed doubts that she ever would.
When passing by the woods where her son was slaughtered, she said, "I blow a kiss at him in the area where he took his last breath."