Austin Sigg, the 18-year-old accused of murdering 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway, pleaded guilty to all charges on Tuesday, including first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault on a child. The announcement was made just days before the trial was set to being on Oct. 3.
District Court Chief Judge Stephen Munsinger accepted the plea and set a sentencing hearing date for Nov. 18, which is expected to take two days.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Sigg appeared in dress clothes leaving behind his jail apparel. It was made clear in the court that the decision to plead guilty was Sigg’s, going against the advice of his counsel. On Sept. 30, Sigg’s attorneys contacted the prosecution team and told them Sigg wanted to plead guilty. This plea covers 15 charges, including the attempted kidnapping charge in the Ketner Lake jogger case.
Sigg faces life in prison, without the possibility of parole until after 40 years. But during a press conference after the hearing, District Attorney Peter Weir said during sentencing, the prosecution will be asking for a sentence of life in prison, without parole eligibility.
"Today Mr. Sigg pled guilty to all charges. He has been held fully accountable for his criminal acts. There was no plea bargain. There was no ‘deal.’ No charges were dismissed as part of a plea bargain,” Weir said. “However, three counts of felony murder merge into the count of first degree murder – after deliberation count. A person can only be convicted and sentenced to the murder of a person once.”
Jessica’s mother, Sara Ridgeway and other family members were present for the hearing and the press conference, but did not speak to the media. Upon hearing the news of the guilty plea, prosecutor Dana Easter said it was still difficult for the family because of the ups and downs of the case.
“The first person we called was the mother and it was difficult for her,” Easter said. “There is nothing joyful in this case. I think it was hard for the family to hear because you get your mind set for a trial and then to have it go away is difficult.”
Westminster Police Chief Lee Birk spoke during the press conference thanking several law enforcement agencies for their hard work. He said the date of the guilty plea serves as a milestone in terms of closure and the healing process for both the Ridgeway family and the community.
“We want to thank the many public safety agencies and partners who assisted the Westminster Police Department in this case,” Birk said. “We want to also thank the Ridgeway family for putting their trust in our agency.”
Jessica disappeared on Oct. 5, 2012 on her way to school in Westminster. Her disappearance triggered a massive search effort by law enforcement and volunteers. Parts of her body were found in a remote part of Arvada and later in Sigg’s home. Sigg admitted to kidnapping and murdering Jessica to his mother before law enforcement was called. He was arrested on Oct. 23, 2012.