A man with multiple burglary convictions pleaded guilty Tuesday to first-degree murder for beating a 95-year-old World War II veteran to death in his Anoka home.
Isaiah Montrell Thomas, 28, who lived within blocks of the victim, entered the plea in Anoka County District Court in connection with the death of Albert Loehlein over Thanksgiving weekend in 2016 while burglarizing the house in the 1200 block of 5th Avenue S., where the victim had lived since buying the home in 1945.
The plea deal spares Thomas a mandatory sentence of life without the chance for parole, given that a count of premeditated first-degree murder was dismissed. Now, Thomas faces a maximum term of 30 years to life when he's sentenced on April 9.
"This was a horrendous crime, committed on a very vulnerable man, that shocked and saddened this community," said County Attorney Tony Palumbo. "After discussions with Mr. Loehlein's family, we feel this was an appropriate conclusion to the legal aspect of this tragedy."
In its statement, the family expressed appreciation for the "overwhelming support from extended family, friends and community throughout this tragedy. Everyone's outpouring of care and concern helped our family through this very difficult ordeal. We are reminded of how widely our Dad was known and cared about in the Anoka Community and beyond."
Loehlein's family added that the guilty plea "helps to bring closure for us. We want to remember the good long life that Dad lived."
Loehlein's killing — he was beaten with a flashlight and a clock — rattled the north metro city of roughly 17,000, which has a sizable elderly population. In response, law enforcement held a public forum and answered questions and offered tips on how to keep safe at home.
"It was terrible for our community," Anoka Police Chief Eric Peterson said several weeks after the killing. Loehlein "was in an environment that he should feel safe."
Loehlein, who lived independently but received some assistance from his family, was found dead two days after the attack by a family member who was dropping off groceries.
Loehlein had severe head, face and neck injuries, the charges read. Investigators collected a fingerprint from a wooden box, and it matched one belonging to Thomas that was on file with law enforcement. Thomas was stopped while driving and arrested a few days later. He had Loehlein's gold pocket watch with him, and detectives later recovered Loehlein's stolen mantel clock from a pawnshop.
Loehlein worked for decades for WCCO Radio (830 AM), tending to the transmitter in Coon Rapids. He loved to hunt, fish and make maple syrup. His wife, Hannah, died seven years before he did.
Thomas' criminal history in Minnesota dates to his teens. He has four burglary convictions, some involving break-ins while people were home.