Two men convicted of beating to death a 90-year-old Carver County farmer in his home last year were each sentenced to more than 37 years in prison on Friday.
Edson Celin-Dominguez Benitez, 31, of Glencoe, and Reinol Godines Vergara, 36, of Richfield, were charged with second-degree murder after Earl Olander’s body was found in April 2015 bound with duct tape and severely beaten in his ransacked farmhouse in San Francisco Township.
In December, a Carver County grand jury indicted the two men on first-degree murder charges. In exchange for plea agreements with the state last month, the first-degree murder indictments were dropped.
Authorities say that, after painting Olander’s house, Benitez and Vergara returned to rob him. They killed him by covering his head with a blanket and beating him with a shotgun.
Olander, a lifelong bachelor, lived on a 160-acre farm that had been in his family for decades, halfway between Chaska and Belle Plaine.
“They left him helpless on his living room floor as they ransacked his home. As he was bleeding to death, they cut the phone line and left him for dead,” Carver County Attorney Mark Metz said Friday, where TV cameras broadcast the hearing.
Judge Michael Wentzell agreed with prosecutors that there was ample evidence to support a harsher punishment for the men, ruling toward the top of sentencing guidelines for second-degree murder.
Wentzell sentenced Benitez and Vergara to 37 years and five months in prison for Olander’s death. They must serve at least 25 years before becoming eligible for parole. It’s possible the men could be deported after their release.
Olander’s niece, Mary Rothfusz, appeared before the court to read an impact statement. She noted that Vergara and Benitez brutalized a man who showed nothing but kindness.
“What happened to my uncle was pure evil,” Rothfusz said. “When the defendant painted his house, my uncle brought him water and snacks from the store.”
Vergara sat in an orange jumpsuit with his hands shackled, listening to an interpreter in his headphones. When given the chance to speak, he offered his condolences before being led out of the room.
“I just want to apologize to the family; I’m sorry for doing this,” he said. “I know it will be very difficult to forgive me.”