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Families react to plea deal offered to Return to Nature Funeral Home owners

Posted at 11:13 PM, Jul 02, 2024

COLORADO SPRINGS — Some families impacted by the Return to Nature Funeral Home case said they're disappointed by the plea deal on the table for the funeral home co-owners.

Jon and Carie Hallford are accused of improperly storing more than 190 bodies inside their funeral home in Penrose. Investigators said the bodies were left to rot without refrigeration and some were found stacked on top of each other. The Hallfords are each facing more than 250 state counts including abuse of a corpse, money laundering, theft, and forgery.

On Monday, family members of loved ones identified inside the funeral home were notified by the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office about a plea deal offered to the defendants. The plea agreement said Mr. Hallford would serve a 20-year sentence in the Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to 191 counts of abuse of a corpse. The deal said Ms. Hallford would serve 15 to 20 years in the Department of Corrections if she pleaded guilty to the same charges.

Samantha Naranjo, whose grandmother was identified inside the funeral home, said she still wants to see this case go to trial to hopefully learn more about what happened inside the funeral home.

"I think it'll help give some closure to a lot of families on some details that were going on in the business or going on throughout this situation," said Naranjo.

Austin Lux, a criminal defense attorney in Colorado Springs, said the plea deal offers the benefit of certainty to both sides in this case.

"If you have a plea agreement in place, then the District Attorney knows that they're not going to have to risk an acquittal at trial. They've got a guaranteed sentence," said Lux. "The same thing to the defendant. A defendant knows that they're not going to have to risk getting convicted at trial and potentially facing a higher sentence."

He said it's very likely the Hallfords would not serve the entirety of a sentence behind bars and would instead be let out on parole since they're not facing violent charges.

"Somebody can wind up on parole on a 21-year sentence about seven years in if it's a non-violent offense," said Lux.

Lux said the District Attorney's Office is obligated to inform victims in any case about a plea deal offered to defendants. He said, however, the District Attorney's Office has the ultimate say in whether a plea agreement is offered. Lux said 90-95% of cases end with plea agreements.

Lux said there's still a chance that the victims in this case could persuade the judge to toss out the plea agreement.

“It does happen more frequently than you think when a judge will decide that a plea agreement is inappropriate, and a lot of times that can be based on the commentary from the victims," said Lux.

Naranjo said the thought of the funeral home co-owners out of prison is unsettling.

"They're going to have a life after this and that is what bothers me the most," she said.

Jon and Carie Hallford are due back in court next Thursday for a review hearing. Prosecutors told family members in an email that they're expecting the Hallfords to plead not guilty during the hearing which will set the case for a jury trial. However, prosecutors said there is a chance the defendants will accept the plea deal during the hearing. The Hallfords have until Oct. 4 to accept the plea agreement.
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