Maximum sentence of 24 years; all other charges dropped
By Kristy Acuff and Mark Reaman
First-degree murder charges have been dropped against a local woman suspected of helping to kill her brother in 2015, but Stephanie Jackson has pleaded guilty to felony charges in connection with the incident. The district attorney said while not a perfect ending to the case, there will be closure and justice as a result.
Jackson pled guilty to two aggravated charges of tampering with a corpse, class three felonies, in exchange for the dismissal of all other charges she faced in connection with the murder of her brother, Jacob Millison. Jackson entered her plea in court Friday, September 6 with Judge Steven Patrick presiding. The charges carry a maximum sentence of up to 24 years and five years of parole. Sentencing is set for November 8, 2019 at 1:30 p.m.
Jackson had been charged with murder in the first degree; two counts of tampering with a deceased human body; five counts of accessory to a crime; one count of tampering with physical evidence; and two misdemeanors, concealing death and abuse of a corpse, as a result of her alleged involvement in the murder of her brother, Jacob Millison, on their mother’s ranch near Parlin, east of Gunnison.
Jackson’s mother, Deborah Rudibaugh, pled guilty in May 2019 to the murder of her son and is now serving 40 years in prison. Two weeks prior to the murder, Rudibaugh had amended her will, leaving the sprawling 700-acre ranch east of Parlin solely to Stephanie. Rudibaugh’s will previously left the ranch to Jacob and his step-brother, Shane Rudibaugh, according to the investigation.
Prosecutor Jessica Waggoner argued that Jackson encouraged or influenced her mother to commit the murder and the judge agreed there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial, which was set to begin September 23, 2019.
As a result of the guilty plea entered last Friday, the trial is now cancelled and the remaining charges against Jackson have been dismissed. After determining that Jackson was of sound mind and body to enter a plea, Patrick asked her why she was pleading guilty.
“You understand that you do not have to do this,” explained Patrick. “You have the right to a trial and the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove the charge. You are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury. Why are you pleading guilty?”
Without a hint of irony, Jackson answered, “Because of my family.” Sounding composed and somewhat impassive, she told the judge, “In addition to my brother, my father and son have been the biggest victims of this tragedy. My son’s full name and picture have been all over social media and his face and name have already been on the cover of an international tabloid post. If this were to go to trial, it would be a media circus and I cannot put them through that.”
DA says plea was the best
outcome under the
Seventh Judicial District district attorney Dan Hotsenpiller said the plea achieved justice in a complicated situation. “This case presented many challenges,” he explained. “First, Jacob’s body was not found until two years after he was murdered. This, of course, meant that significant evidence was lost or destroyed. Second, the circumstances are unique, to say the least. One individual has confessed to the act of murder, yet many questions remain unanswered. Despite the diligence of investigators with the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and forensic experts from across the country, some of these questions will likely forever remain unanswered.
“Nonetheless, this office, with its law enforcement partners, has worked to hold three people accountable for Jacob Millison’s murder and the actions after the homicide to conceal and tamper with his body,” Hotsenpiller continued. “After more than four years, we will be able to bring closure to Jacob’s many friends and his family. We invite Jacob’s friends to participate in the sentencing hearings still to come in this case if they would like to be present and remember Jacob’s life.”
Stephanie Jackson’s brother was last seen alive in May 2015 while he was living at his mother’s ranch, estimated to be worth $3 million. His friends reported him missing after he did not respond to phone calls and when they visited the ranch, they witnessed Rudibaugh and Jackson burning Millison’s mattress, according to police reports.
Later, on a separate visit, they reported seeing Stephanie and her husband, David Jackson, standing near the horse corral with shovels. On a later visit, when police searched the ranch, they discovered Millison’s corpse buried beneath decaying sheep heads in the horse corral.
Millison had been shot once by a 0.357 revolver while asleep in his bed on the second floor of his mother’s house. Rudibaugh confessed to killing her son and then dragging his body down the stairs using a rope and winch attached to her backhoe. She told police she used the equipment and her “Yankee ingenuity” to bury the corpse. She was a slight 75 pounds at the time and recovering from gall-bladder surgery. This, combined with the eyewitness accounts of Jackson and her husband, raised suspicions among police that Rudibaugh did not act alone in the killing.
David Jackson pled guilty in December 2018 to one count of tampering with a deceased human body, a felony charge. He is currently out on bond and awaiting sentencing, which was originally scheduled for after his wife’s trial in late September. His sentencing for this charge is still pending.
“The plea dispositions in these cases are the best means for us to obtain finality of this case and achieve justice for Jacob,” concluded Hotsenpiller.