Two brothers pleaded guilty Friday in last year’s murder of a University of Idaho student.
Brothers James J. Wells, 26, and Matthew R. Wells II, 27, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Eric McMillan, a 19-year-old freshman on the football team. The men shot McMillan in his chest and head at his Moscow apartment on Sept. 19; he died at a hospital the next morning.
The brothers, who are from Seattle, will each face up to 30 years in prison when they are sentenced on Nov. 18, said Michelle Evans, Latah County deputy prosecuting attorney. They had faced first-degree murder and conspiracy charges before agreeing to plead guilty.
“This gives us an opportunity for closure,” University of Idaho athletic director Rob Spear said in a press release. “While the pain of last year’s tragedy remains, their plea enables us to move forward without having to relive last September through a trial.”
In court Friday, the brothers said they acted alone in the shooting – a development that could cause the release of their nephew, Thomas J. Riggins.
Riggins is accused of asking his uncles to kill McMillan and giving them the ammunition to do it when the Wellses came to Riggins’ home in Kent, Wash.
Prosecutors indicated they may drop murder charges against Riggins at a hearing Wednesday, as long as the brothers’ confession checks out, said Greg Dickison, Riggins’ attorney.
“It’s been our position for quite some time that there was no conspiracy,” Dickison said. “Until they spoke, there really wasn’t much we could do to show that Mr. Riggins was not guilty.”
In taking responsibility, the brothers said they weren’t targeting McMillan, but were to looking to confront any member of the UI football team about a fight between football players and their younger brother and Riggins.
They forced their way into McMillan’s apartment. James Wells said in court that he fired when it appeared McMillan seemed to move toward him.
“It wasn’t his fault at all,” Wells said. “It was straight-up just nervous energy and boom! It happened so fast. Life was just changed that fast for everybody.”
Matthew Wells said he shot McMillan at the same instant.
“When I saw the young man reach toward my brother, I pulled out my gun and I shot,” Matthew Wells said. “I didn’t even know my brother shot.”
After the shooting, the brothers fled in a white BMW and led deputies from Whitman County, Wash., on a four-hour, high-speed chase before the Washington State Patrol stopped their vehicle in Vantage, Wash., 150 miles from the campus. Neither of the two guns used in the shooting was found.
“It was a high-impact crime in our community,” Evans said. “I certainly feel it’s a good resolution to the two cases.”
Five people, including Riggins and the Wellses’ father and two of their brothers, face perjury charges for their testimony to a grand jury.