A 25-year-old man admitted in court Tuesday that he shot and beat his parents to death in their Del Rio home a year ago.
Cameron Terhune's guilty pleas came just minutes after the start of a hearing in Stanislaus County Superior Court intended to determine whether he would stand trial in the double murder.
He will be sentenced to 100 years to life in prison for killing Ken Terhune, 65, and Diane Terhune, 56, under the terms of the plea agreement, a judge said.
A prosecutor agreed to drop a special allegation that would have brought a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole in exchange for Terhune's guilty pleas. He pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and gun enhancements. Terhune cannot appeal his conviction.
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Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley said Terhune's guilty pleas were a "surprise" to prosecutors who were set to begin a two-day preliminary hearing.
"We did not know before getting into that courtroom," Shipley said. "I think it's better for the families on both sides that it's done."
Relatives of Diane Terhune, who asked that their names not be used, said outside the courthouse they were "satisfied" with the agreement and were relieved to avoid trial.
"It would have been too hard on my family," one family member said.
On the afternoon of Jan. 13, 2009, Cameron Terhune arrived at the house at 201 Stewart Road, armed himself with several guns and waited for his adoptive parents to return home, prosecutor Rick Mury said.
Terhune's younger brother was the first to encounter him. Terhune demanded his younger brother leave the house in the country club area north of Modesto before the carnage ensued.
"(Cameron) said it was either the parents or all of them," Mury said.
According to Mury:
Terhune's first victim was his father, who was in the kitchen when his son shot him in the back of the head, killing him instantly.
Terhune shot his mother several times after she screamed, then tripped and fell to the ground in the house's entryway. Terhune got another gun from the bedroom and kept shooting his mother. He then hit her over the head with a flashlight until she lost consciousness.
Police found the Terhunes two days after the shooting, and arrested Cameron Terhune that night when they found him sitting in a car on Floyd Avenue near Rose Avenue in northeast Modesto.
In a March 2009 jailhouse interview with The Bee, Terhune said he struggled with mental health problems, had daily headaches, problems with mood swings and took prescription medications to deal with the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Terhune told friends he couldn't join the Navy because of those health problems and was under mounting family pressure to get his life on track.
Several of Terhune's friends say he had never been violent, although he was "slipping mentally" after a recent series of disappointments: He dropped out of several colleges, had a disillusioning reunification with his birth parents and suffered romantic frustrations.
But Deputy Public Defender Maureen Keller said in court she could not advise Terhune to plead not guilty by reason of insanity after the results of a mental health evaluation.
Keller told Judge Ricardo Córdova she had "no issues" regarding Terhune's competency to enter guilty pleas.
She could not be reached for further comment.
Ken and Diane Terhune owned their own business, Vintage Concepts. They marketed wine industry-related products online and by mail from a small warehouse in east Modesto.
In the courtroom Tuesday were neighbors, relatives and friends of the Terhune family. A woman who sat behind Cameron Terhune told Diane Terhune's family she had visited Cameron Terhune in jail and he was "practicing Buddhism" behind bars.
Terhune will be sentenced April 13.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.