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Asked how he pleaded to the charge that he murdered Dr. Kenneth Atkinson 13 months ago, Kevin Lee Lyons replied, "guilty, your honor" to Judge Carlos Samour Jr.
The 47-year-old Centennial man would repeat "guilty" 15 more times in an Arapahoe County courtroom the afternoon of May 4. He had agreed to a deal that means he will never leave prison for his actions April 4, 2016, when he not only fatally shot Atkinson but also shot and injured his own wife, Elizabeth Lyons, and another neighbor, Laurie Juergens.
In addition to pleading guilty to first-degree murder in the shooting death of Atkinson, a well-known doctor who lived next door to him in the quiet Homestead Farm II subdivision, Kevin Lyons pleaded guilty to multiple counts of attempted murder, two counts of assault and two crime-of-violence sentencing enhancements. For Atkinson's death, he will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole next month. For the other charges, he will receive a total of 352 years in prison.
"At the end of the day, this was a guy who committed a cold-blooded, heinous murder, and but for the grace of God would have killed other neighbors and two law enforcement officers," 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler said after the plea.
The shooting was preceded by several days of "erratic" behavior by Kevin Lyons, Elizabeth Lyons told investigators.
"My husband just snapped," she told them when they interviewed her in the hospital.
Elizabeth Lyons said that Kevin Lyons had been angered by her suggestion that he go to a hospital for mental health issues, came upstairs from their basement with a gun, told her to leave and began firing as she ran toward Juergens' house, across the street, where the neighbor was gardening in the front yard.
Elizabeth Lyons was found bleeding on Juergens' porch. Juergens sustained a gunshot wound to her face and first hid in a window well before making her way to her backyard and into her house.
Atkinson, who came outside to help the shooting victims, was shot in the leg, arm and torso, and finally, in the head.
Shot at but uninjured were neighbors Lesa McKenzie and Craig Johnson, and Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office Deputies Tim Klisnick and Frank Morgan.
During a preliminary hearing last August, deputies and investigators testified that Kevin Lyons chanted, prayed out loud and spoke in nonsensical terms about the Bible, both at the scene and in an interview room at department headquarters later, and that witnesses had told them that he sang and yelled about the Bible during the shooting and referred to his wife as "the devil."
Kevin Lyons pleaded guilty to two attempted-murder counts each for Elizabeth Lyons, Juergens, Klisnick, Morgan and McKenzie; one each for a deliberate attempted murder; and one for an act of malice likely to lead to their deaths. He also pleaded guilty to first-degree assault against both Elizabeth Lyons and Juergens.
Kevin Lyons pleaded not guilty to all of the charges in March, and his public defenders informed the court that they would introduce expert testimony on his mental health condition during trial. The day of the guilty plea, 63 days from the date of his original plea, was also the last day for Brauchler to decide if he would seek the death penalty. Kevin Lyons was scheduled to be sent for an evaluation at Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo prior to the trial. CMHIP staff also evaluated his mental state last year, after which Samour ruled him competent to stand trial.
Brauchler said that the defense team had been interested in a plea deal since December.
"There's no doubt in my mind he's good for every charge we leveled against him and to which he pleaded guilty today," the district attorney said.
Kevin Lyons chose not to make a statement with his plea, and none of the victims or their families addressed the court either. However, victims are likely to speak at the sentencing, which a half-day of court time has been set aside for.
Sentencing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. June 5.
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