Nearly three years after Robert and Patricia Cogdell were murdered in their Conway home, the fourth suspect has now pleaded guilty for his involvement in their brutal deaths.
"Now that all four defendants have entered guilty pleas, today marks the end of the court proceedings related to these two murders. Tragically, this is not even close to the end of the grief for the family of the victims," 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Luke Ferguson said Tuesday evening. "These crimes were absolutely shocking. It's difficult to get my mind around the evil required to kill these two innocent people in cold blood. There is no adequate explanation for this tragic taking of human life."
Hunter Drexler, now 20, was 17 years old when he and three others shot and killed the Conway couple in their home on 4803 Quail Run Circle on July 21, 2015.
A two-week trial was set to take place in Faulkner County Circuit Court in September in the case against Drexler, who was faced with two counts each of capital murder, aggravated robbery, theft of property obtained by threat of physical injury and abuse of a corpse. However, the trial was canceled after Drexler signed a plea statement Tuesday afternoon.
Drexler, who stood in shackles while wearing a striped jumpsuit, sat calmly before Circuit Judge Troy Braswell Jr. on Tuesday as he accepted a negotiated plea deal.
With the Cogdell family filling the right side of the courtroom and his mother and father along with other family members filling the left side of the room, Drexler, with his young face and deepened voice, looked out into the crowd before him and pleaded guilty to the lessened charges before him — two counts each of first-degree murder, aggravated robbery and abuse of a corpse.
Following his guilty plea, Drexler was ultimately sentenced to 25 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections, with a 15-year suspended sentence.
Three others — Justin Staton, Anastasia Roberts and Connor Atchley — have also pleaded guilty in the Cogdells' deaths.
Staton, who was 14 years old when he and the others followed through with their plan to kill and rob the Cogdells, was the first of the four to plea guilty in his grandparents' deaths.
The boy pleaded guilty in May 2016 and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Robert and Patricia Cogdell, both 66, learned in 2008 their son, Robert Shane Cogdell, was not Staton’s father but continued to raise him as their grandson.
Following his sentencing, Judge Braswell left Staton with a final message to ponder during his incarceration.
"I hope every day for the rest of your life, you think about them," Braswell said to a 15-year-old Staton on May 10, 2016, before the teen was escorted from the courtroom. "Because they loved you and took care of you ... and the thanks you gave them was murder."
As he sentenced Drexler on Tuesday, Braswell had no final words for Drexler, who led the others in planning out the Cogdells' gruesome death.
"We're adjourned, good luck," Braswell said after signing Drexler's sentencing order shortly before 4:30 p.m.
The facts surrounding the case show Drexler, along with Staton, Roberts and Atchley, planned to rob the Cogdells at gunpoint in order to gather the funds to run away. Drexler and Staton devised the plan while incarcerated in the Faulkner County Juvenile Detention Center.
Staton testified against Drexler last year and admitted and explained the morbid details of the plan to kill the his grandparents. Staton said he and Drexler plotted the attack while they were in jail together.
As he retold the events that led up to his grandparents’ murders, he began to cry.
He said the two planned to kill his grandparents on the couch in their living room, but that “things switched up a bit” and they ended up shooting Robert and Patricia in the hallway.
Roberts and Atchley were in Staton’s bedroom at the time Drexler and Staton began shooting, he testified.
Atchley, who pleaded guilty in July 2016, was 17 years old when he aided in the double murder and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
According to Staton’s testimony, Atchley learned of the plan to rob and kill the Cogdells from Drexler, who was cellmates with Atchley in jail.
When Atchley pleaded guilty two years ago, his defense attorney said he got involved with the plan to rob and kill the Cogdells so that he and Roberts could run away together. Roberts is Atchley’s girlfriend. She pleaded guilty in June 2017 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
While the criminal proceedings pertaining to the Cogdells' deaths are now over, family members say they are forever affected by this tragedy.
Lindi Weaver said she mourns for her parents each day.
With the three-year anniversary of her parents' murder just around the corner, tears filled her eyes with both relief and sadness following Tuesday's hearing.
She recalled memories of being a daddy's girl and said her mother would have been 69 years old Sunday.
Before walking away from the courthouse, Weaver said she wanted to remind others to always cherish and love their families and never take life moments for granted.
"Always cherish your mom," she said. "You may think [sometimes] that you're mad at her. But, you're not. I can promise you that."
Drexler is required to serve 70 percent of his sentence before being eligible for parole.
"The guilty plea ensures that Hunter Drexler will be in prison for the foreseeable future and it spares the family a drawn out appeals process, which would have been likely if the case had gone to trial," Ferguson said. "I greatly appreciate the hard work that the Conway Police Department and Deputy Prosecutor Joan Shipley put into this case over the last three years. They made sure that justice was carried out in the cases of all four defendants no matter how long it took."