The last of the initial five members from the radical militia group Forever Enduring Always Ready, or F.E.A.R., pleaded guilty Thursday for her actions in the 2011 slayings of of Tiffany York, 17, and Michael Roark, 19.
Facing up to 70 years in jail for numerous charges, including malice murder, Heather Salmon accepted a negotiated plea from the Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office.
In exchange for her admission of guilt, the district attorney’s office reduced the two malice-murder charges to voluntary manslaughter and dropped all other charges except for two counts of violating the Street Gang and Terrorism Prevention Act.
Before Long County Superior Court Judge Robert L. Russell III accepted Salmon’s plea, special prosecutor Isabel Pauley told the judge how Salmon was linked to the murders of the two teens.
Pauley said Salmon was, in a sense, the matriarch of the group F.E.A.R. The group’s leader, Isaac Aguigui, was very close to Salmon and her husband, Christopher Salmon, Pauley said.
Both Salmon and Aguigui are serving life sentences for their part in the killings. Pauley said Aguigui moved in with the couple after his wife, Deirdre Aguigui, and their unborn child died July 17, 2011. It was later learned that Aguigui killed the two, Pauley said.
During this time, the prosecutor said, the three laid out the groundwork for what would become F.E.A.R. She said insurance money that Aguigui received in his wife’s death funded F.E.A.R.’s purchases of weapons and supplies to build bombs.
Pauley said Aguigui was the leader of F.E.A.R., Christopher Salmon was No. 2, and Heather Salmon was No. 3 in the hierarchy. The prosecutor said Heather Salmon also handled the group’s money.
Pauley told Russell that even though Heather Salmon wasn’t with her husband, Aguigui, Anthony Peden and Michael Burnette on the night of the slayings, she still knew that they were to take place, she encouraged them and then helped destroy related evidence.
Pauley said Salmon also was instrumental in placing doubts in Aguigui’s mind about Roark’s loyalty to F.E.A.R. Salmon was the first person to tell Aguigui that Roark had made some unauthorized purchases using F.E.A.R. funds, and that this enraged Aguigui, Pauley said.
The prosecutor added that Salmon showed Aguigui a phone that was left by York in their home that had text messages showing that Roark wanted to leave the organization and move to California with York. All of this fueled Aguigui, Pauley said, and helped encourage him to have Roark killed and led to the death of York.
After hearing all of Pauley’s comments, Russell accepted Salmon’s plea as well as the district attorney’s office’s recommendation to reduce the charges. Russell also approved the district attorney’s recommendation that Salmon be sentenced to 20 years in prison and then be placed on probation for 10 years.
Though Salmon’s total sentence is for 30 years, family members of the two slain teens voiced displeasure in the negotiated plea when they were allowed to speak during the families’ impact statements.
Brenda Thomas, York’s mother, said Salmon should be sentenced to life in prison.
“You could have stopped this and you didn’t. Tiffany is gone, and it’s because of you,” Thomas said. “You deserve to spend the rest of your life locked up.”
Michael Jarr, a grandfather of Roark, said the killing of the two teens changed his family’s lives forever. He added that the family has faced mental anguish that will never go away. He, too, said he did not agree with the charges against Salmon being reduced.
“We didn’t agree with this sentencing,” Jarr said. “We think the charges should be murder.”
After the family members concluded their comments, Salmon looked at them and simply said, “I’m sorry for everything.”
Before accepting the recommendations from the district attorney’s office, Russell told the family members that he respected their comments and had sympathy for them. But he added that the district attorney’s office has a job to do, and when a negotiated plea is made and accepted, it serves society correctly.
The sentencing of Heather Salmon brings an end to the initial terror of F.E.A.R. All of the individuals who were involved in the killing of York and Roark are now sitting behind bars.