Richard Parker entered guilty pleas on two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of his in-laws Jon and Marion Setzer and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Tuesday morning.
Parker appeared in Judge John Wootten Jr.’s Wilson County courtroom at 9 a.m. for what was expected by many to be a motions hearing leading up to the Oct. 28 trial date set by Wootten at a previous hearing on April 8. He was represented by Public Defenders Bill Cather and John Gholston.
At that time, Wootten expressed his intent to “move this along” at a swift pace and prosecutors, Assistant District Attorneys Jimmy Lea and Brian Fuller said they were still waiting on evidence related to the explosive device to return from state and federal labs.
Lea presented a summary of Parker’s actions leading up to the murders in court on Tuesday after Parker’s signed guilty plea, dated July 31, was presented to Wootten. Parker pleaded guilty to two counts of his four-count indictment for knowingly placing and discharging the device that killed the Setzers.
Facts given by Lea reported that on Monday, Feb. 10, between 4:30-5 p.m., the Setzer’s grandson, David Parker, son of Richard Parker, heard an explosion and saw flames coming from his grandparents’ home while at the Parker home, also located on the Setzer’s 576 Vance Lane property.
Windows were blown out of the house and upon entry, David saw his grandparents were both on fire. He ran outside to get a hosepipe in an attempt to put out the fire and save his grandfather. During this time Parker carried Mrs. Setzer out of the home and held her on the swing.
Wilson County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Rollins was one of the first responders on the scene. Upon encountering Mrs. Setzer, who was badly burned, she told him that they received a package with a lamp and a note attached suggesting that they plug in the lamp. Mr. Setzer, 74, was dead at the scene; however, Mrs. Setzer, 72, was LifeFlighted to Vanderbilt to be treated for injuries. She died two days later on Wednesday, Feb. 12, from what the Medical Examiner found to be “severe thermal injuries.”
A collaborative investigation involving the Wilson County Sheriff’s Department, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the federal ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and U.S. Attorney’s office began. Lea said that in an initial interview Parker claimed he had “no idea who would have done this.”
Surveillance footage from a Gallatin Walmart store showed that on Friday, Feb. 7, Parker purchased items used in relation to packaging the explosive device including a box, lampshade and 24-by-24 packing paper. The footage showed Parker paying in cash for these items and driving away in his minivan.
Lea said in another interview Parker voluntarily admitted to purchasing these items as well as cans of gunpowder over time, since there are regulations on how much can be purchased at once. He had made the package to resemble one from FedEx.
Investigators uncovered documents regarding “a substantial amount of money” that Parker owed the Setzers, believed to possibly be a motive for the crimes. The loan was due to be repaid in November 2013. Investigators also found where Parker had forged a check from Mr. Setzer for $12,000 and cashed it at a Regions Bank in Murfreesboro.
The state filed enhancement factors in Parker’s punishment on Tuesday including that Parker knowingly created a device to harm two or more victims, that the murders were heinous, physical abuse beyond what is needed to produce death, that the murders were committed by the defendant placing the bomb and that the murders were committed upon victims 70 years of age or older.
Wootten carefully reviewed these details with Parker and asked him many times over if he understood what rights he was giving up by pleading guilty.
“You are giving up the right to a speedy, public trial … right to counsel…right to remain silent…rights to appeal,” he said. “This will add to an already existing criminal record. You have one prior felony, correct?”
Parker acknowledged that the information was correct and that he was aware of his rights and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol or had been intimidated to enter this plea.
Following the appearance, a brief press conference was held. TBI Director Mark Gwyn said they were pleased with the developments and hoped that they would bring further closure to the victims’ family and friends. “This admission of guilt guarantees that the man responsible will never go free,” he said.
Fuller also expressed his sympathy for the family and thanked all agencies involved in the investigation.
Marianna Rogers, daughter of the Setzers, spoke on behalf of the family. “We are pleased with the outcome of the proceedings,” she said, noting that the agencies involved treated the family with professionalism and respect. “Our parents tried to share God’s love and the message of hope during their time with us … We are comforted with assurance that we will see them again.”
Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.