Minutes before Roger E. Holland was sentenced to two consecutive life terms for the murder of his pregnant wife, Margorie Holland's mother and stepmother told the court that they should be rejoicing over a new granddaughter rather than asking that a man they'd once embraced as family be condemned to a life behind bars.

Holland, 37, will never be eligible for parole. A jury found him guilty of two counts of first-degree premeditated murder and two of second-degree intentional murder in the deaths of his 37-year-old wife and their 15-week-old fetus, whom they'd already named Olivia Jewel.

In handing down the sentence mandated by state law, Dakota County District Judge Timothy McManus implored Holland to come clean for the sake of his conscience. "If you did this, and only you know for sure … the only way to save yourself is to acknowledge it, publicly or privately," McManus said.

Defense attorney Marsh Halberg told the judge that Holland "does not feel he has the strength or the emotional ability or the skills at this point to articulate to the court his thoughts" and had instructed his attorney to speak for him.

"Mr. Holland does not want to sound defiant. He does not wish to sound delusional, but … he wishes for people to know that he believes he is innocent of these charges," Halberg said. "To the day he dies, he will deny he did this."

Margorie Holland was strangled on March 7 in the couple's Apple Valley townhouse. Roger Holland claims that he arrived home from an errand and found her body at the bottom of the stairs, and his defense attorneys suggested that she may died from a fall. But police immediately noticed evidence to the contrary and saw inconsistencies in Roger Holland's story.

Before Halberg spoke for Holland, Barbara Brown, Margorie's stepmother, and her mother, Claudia Jones, spoke.

"Now when we should be sharing joyful news of the birth of the new granddaughter, we are announcing that justice has been birthed instead," Brown said. "This man, Roger Holland, was embraced into our family as a son, a brother and a friend. Words fail to express the grief and horror we are now left with when we hear his name … We pray God will have mercy on this man's soul."

Jones said, "My heart is crushed, but my spirit remains strong. I will use this life lesson to reach out to others and to share when needs are great in order that Margorie's voice continues to be heard and her life will not have been in vain."

Prosecutor Phil Prokopowicz asked McManus to impose the two sentences consecutively. Although that doesn't have any effect on the length of the sentence, it acknowledges "there were two beings here," he said. The judge agreed.

Prokopowicz told the jury in his closing argument Monday that Holland was the only person who had the motive, the ability and the opportunity to kill his wife. He had turned their marriage into a "house of cards" through his lies, fraud and deception, and he killed her when that house began collapsing, the prosecutor said.

On the day of Margorie Holland's death, officers noticed bruises and scrapes on her body from her head to her ankles. She had tiny hemorrhages in her eyes and on her face that can be caused by pressure on the neck. Those injuries weren't fatal; it was the bilateral fracture of the horns of her thyroid cartilage, consistent with strangulation, that led the medical examiner to rule that the manner of death was homicide. The fetus died with her, the medical examiner testified.

The scratches that police found on Roger Holland's face and neck happened when Margorie Holland fought her killer, the prosecutor told the jury. "She fought for her life and that of her unborn child," Prokopowicz said.

The Hollands served in the Texas National Guard. They married in 2010 and moved from San Antonio to Minnesota last December to be nearer to Margorie's parents while she was pregnant.

Investigators learned that Holland and his wife had fought fiercely via text message about finances in the months before she died. Holland had maxed out her credit cards without her permission. When she found out, she threatened to divorce him and turn him in to authorities.

Holland had told his wife that he had gotten a job that paid $13,000 a month. He even told her that they needed to return to Texas because he'd been promoted from vice president to president. In fact, he was unemployed and had hit up friends for money and signed promissory notes for up to $25,000.

Police found deleted Internet searches, as recently as the day before Margorie Holland's death, inquiring about whether it's possible to break someone's neck with your bare hands or whether someone can fall down stairs, break their neck and die.

Holland told police he and his wife exchanged texts about what he should pick up for breakfast after he left the house. When he returned, he said, he found her lying at the bottom of a stairway, unresponsive. She was declared dead less than 90 minutes later.

The texts helped sink his story. His phone showed the last text arrived at 9:33 a.m., yet video surveillance from the parking garage showed that he didn't leave the townhouse complex until 9:34 a.m.

In a text Margorie Holland wrote to her brother in Texas the morning she died, she said, "We're not coming down. We're getting divorced. Explain later." It's unclear whether she ever got to send that text.

Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284