A Utah man was sentenced Thursday to at least 16 years to life in prison for the killing of a mother and her three-year-old son whose bodies were found in a shallow grave four years after they disappeared.
Christopher Poulson, 30, pleaded guilty in August to first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony manslaughter in the 2015 deaths of 23-year-old Emily Quijano and her son Gabriel Almiron.
“Seeing Christopher go to prison brings me no joy,” Quijano’s mother, Brenda Marsh, said at the sentencing Thursday, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. “But it does bring me peace. It is right for him to be there and serve his sentence.”
“My Emma and Gabe are not coming home to me,” Quijano’s father Jesse Quijano said. “This is finally sinking in and it’s tearing my heart to shreds. I feel no freedom or relief from this mental anguish.”
Quijano and her son vanished without a trace in Sept. of 2015. At the time of their disappearance, Poulson told police that he and Quijano had split up after he found drug paraphernalia in their Orem apartment and hadn’t seen her since.
“He said she had a methamphetamine problem and that he, for the umpteenth time, found drug paraphernalia and he said that was it,” Deputy Utah County Attorney Lance Bastian tells PEOPLE. “[He said] she left the morning of September 9 and came back on September 11 and packed a number of things in her car and left again.”
Bastian said police initially treated the case as a missing person. But after mounting evidence, including Poulson’s purchase of a shovel and work gloves soon after the murders, and a cadaver dog indicating the presence of human remains in the trunk of his car, he was charged with murder in 2017.
Poulson, who had worked as a waiter, later admitted to the slayings.
“He essentially said he blacked out and that he was on a methamphetamine and alcohol binge and hadn’t slept in a couple of days … and when he came to himself, he realized he had severely injured Gabe,” says Bastian. “At another point, he said Gabe was sitting on a counter top. He pushed him off in a moment of anger. All the versions ended up culminating in Gabe having a severe head injury. He then put him into his bed … hoping he would wake up the next morning and be OK.”
Bastian, who prosecuted the case with Deputy Utah County Attorney’s Lauren Hunt and Ryan McBride, says Quijano had been at class when the attack happened, and when she came home Gabe was already in bed and she went to bed as well.
Poulson reportedly told authorities he stayed awake all night, and at some point in the morning he went to check on Gabe and found him dead.
“And so at that point, rather than Emily wake up and find Gabe in that state and his potentially facing legal consequences … he decided to kill Emily as well and try to cover the whole thing up,” Bastian says. “He had a 9mm Smith & Wesson and he said he wrapped the gun in his hand in a towel and while she was still asleep, put it against her head and fired a single shot.”
Poulson later agreed to divulge where he buried their bodies as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, which allowed him to plead guilty to a lesser charge, KSL reports.
Their skeletal remains were retrieved earlier this month from a makeshift grave near Eureka, according to the Associated Press.
At his sentencing, Poulson said he took “full responsibility” for what he’d done, saying, “I feel terrible for what has happened. I feel extreme remorse. I’m sorry, I was not in my right mind when this occurred,” the Tribune reports.
Deputy Utah County Attorney Lance Bastian doesn’t believe Poulson’s claims, pointing out the way he disposed of their bodies.
“Gabe was put in [the grave] face first,” he says. “His head down by her feet, on top of her legs. And to drop a cigarette butt in on top of them before filling in the hole was staggering to us.”