Man, fiancee sentenced to life in couple's death
FESSENDEN (ND) - A man and his fiancee have been sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of a rural couple in a dispute over visiting their granddaughter.
A jury convicted Nichols and Sorenson in the deaths of Donald Willey, 70, and Alice Willey, 67, whose bodies were found in their burned farm home in April 2007.
Sorenson was the mother of the Willeys' 8-year-old granddaughter, and fought them over visitation rights to the child.
Authorities said Nichols shot the Willeys before setting their home on fire near Sykeston.
Prosecutor Kathleen Trosen called Nichols "the puppet who pulled the trigger" and Sorenson the "puppeteer who pulled the strings."
A bit on the back story:
Nicole is the daughter of Sorenson and the Willeys' son Andrew, who was killed in a helicopter crash in 2002. The child was awarded $2.2 million in a lawsuit against the helicopter manufacturer, authorities said earlier.
The lawyer who helped established the trust fund for Nicole, said $310,000 in life insurance was paid out, along with the helicopter settlement.
He said the trust fund bought Nicole and her mother a Fargo home, a car, health insurance and a monthly allowance. Donald Willey had told him Sorenson's boyfriend was living in the house and Willey thought the trust fund should collect rent from Nichols. The lawyer did not know if the rent ever was collected.
Court records show Sorenson stopped allowing the Willeys to visit their granddaughter in April 2006. A judge restored those rights last year.
On Feb. 13, 2007, the same day the Willeys' visitation rights were restored, Nichols bought the .45-caliber handgun used to kill the couple.
Last April 6, the Willeys were talking to their granddaughter on the phone about a visit. At the same time, Sorenson and Nichols were talking to each other on cell phones.
Alice Willey's watch stopped about 11:30 that night, and phone records show Nichols called from his cell phone to Sorenson's home at 11:41. A handwriting expert testified that Sorenson, who had lived in the Willeys' home at one time, drew a diagram and directions to the home.