On Monday, 19-year-old Ethan Orton was sentenced to a maximum of life in prison with the chance for parole after 50 years for the 2021 slayings of his parents. He pleaded guilty in February to two counts of first-degree murder for stabbing his parents with a knife, followed by an axe when he realized his mother was still alive after the initial attack.
Iowa state law requires first-degree murder convictions to be mandatory life sentences in prison without any option for parole. However, due to Orton being a minor and five months away from turning 18, a precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 and later upheld by Iowa’s highest court in 2016 preserved his hope for parole in the future by outlawing sentences of life without parole for juveniles.
During the sentencing hearing, Orton’s defense attorney suggested a life sentence in prison with the possibility of parole in 10 years. He mentioned Orton’s parents’ emotional abuse of their son over the years and their plan to cut ties with him once he reached adulthood.
Meanwhile, the prosecutors focused on Orton, revealing that he had never been diagnosed with any mental illness and emphasizing how his premeditated plan, which included laying out his weapons in advance and waiting for his parents to sleep before carrying out the attack, demonstrated rational thought.
Judge Thornhill concluded the sentencing by considering Orton’s nearly 18 age, no physical or sexual abuse, and the planned and cruel nature of the attack to set a 50-year minimum turn for parole.
Orton later declared to the court that he was resigned to what he’d done, and according to the criminal complaint, he had promptly confessed to killing his parents, and the police found the bodies in the family house. His mother’s email that mentioned them cutting him out of their life allegedly triggered the violent attack.
The double murder of Orton’s parents is a severe tragedy that will haunt the affected community and the family for a long time.