Edgar Macias-Moreno will spend between 25 and 40 years in prison for strangling Madelaine Loh last year in Hotchkiss.
Macias-Moreno, 25, responded with the word “Guilty” Thursday, when Delta District Judge Steve Schultz asked how he pleaded to an added count of second-degree murder, as an act of domestic violence, in the 2018 crime. Charges of first-degree murder, animal cruelty and concealing a death were dismissed under the agreement.
“Do you admit you committed this violent act?” Schultz also asked.
As he said in response to other questions, Macias-Moreno replied, “Yes, your honor.”
The judge also asked whether Loh’s survivors had been informed of the plea agreement, as required under the Victim Rights Act.
“They are supportive of the agreement,” Assistant District Attorney Barbara Sanford said, as Loh’s parents listened to the hearing by phone.
Second-degree murder is a class-2 felony that carries a sentence between eight and 24 years, but because Macias-Moreno pleaded guilty to an offense that is categorized as a crime of violence, the sentencing range became 16 to 48 years.
He stipulated to a sentence of at least 25 years, but not more than 40 as part of his plea; it will fall to Schultz to determine the amount of time at Macias-Moreno’s Nov. 15 sentencing.
Loh, 27, disappeared in June of 2018, along with Macias-Moreno, her boyfriend, with whom she shared a camping trailer in Hotchkiss.
Both were initially sought on a missing persons report, but about a week after it was made, Macias-Moreno paid an early-morning visit to the Delta County Sheriff’s Office and divulged he was the reason Loh was missing.
Through several hours the morning of June 27, 2018, Macias-Moreno said he had strangled Loh during an argument over money, then loaded her body and dog into her SUV and drove into Utah.
Along the way, he removed the dog’s collar and abandoned him by the side of U.S. 50, with an apology, according to the affidavit; the dog was found alive in Mesa County and has since found a new home.
He placed Loh’s body in the Utah desert, behind some tree stumps, then proceeded to Las Vegas, where he gambled away his money, investigators said. Days later, he begged enough money to fill the gas tank and returned to Utah, reportedly in an attempt to “check on” Loh, but could not.
Along the way, he made two abortive suicide attempts, first by lighting the SUV on fire — but getting out when the heat became too much — and then, by contemplating jumping from a cliff.
The information Macias-Moreno provided to the DCSO enabled Utah authorities to locate the burned vehicle and later, Loh’s body.
Macias-Moreno’s Thursday plea comes a few months after his unsuccessful motion to have statements he made to sheriff’s investigators suppressed. Even though he had been advised of his rights during his interview, his defense counsel argued Macias-Moreno had been “in custody,” as it is legally defined, from the time he walked into the DCSO.
Schultz rejected the argument.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer.