MARTIN COUNTY — A man charged in the slaying of a 57-year-old woman whose body was recovered in March from a septic tank on her property was sentenced Tuesday to three consecutive life terms in prison.
Keoki Hilo Demich, 34, was adjudicated guilty of charges including first-degree murder, burglary of an occupied dwelling with assault or battery, sexual battery with great force, grand theft and grand theft of a motor vehicle following the death of Cynthia Cole earlier this year.
Demich, who investigators said worked as a handyman for Cole, was sentenced immediately after his guilty plea in Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer's court to life terms on each of the first three charges, which will be served consecutively, and lesser time on the other charges.
Bauer, in instructing Demich about serving life without the possibility of parole, noted it “means that there's only one way you’re going to leave prison, which is when you decease of old age or some disease.”
Prosecutors declared their intent to seek a state execution for Demich, of Stuart, a day after a Martin County grand jury on May 17 indicted him of first-degree murder in the homicide of Cole, court records show.
Bauer said the actions Tuesday mean the state waived the notice to seek the death penalty.
Demich, wearing an orange jail outfit and chained around the waist, stood as three of Cole's children addressed the court.
Daughter Ashley Bevensee said Demich had been in their lives for years, and met him many times. She said they're the same age and that throughout the years, he told her Cole was “like a second mother to him.”
Bevensee found Christmas cards from Demich indicating he loved her and was grateful for her being in his life.
“I will never understand how you do this to someone who you call a second mother," she said.
Assistant State Attorney Nita Denton read a statement indicating Demich went to Cole’s home, which was in Jensen Beach, intending to rob and kill her.
“When he arrived at her home, she was not there, and he laid in wait until she arrived home," Denton said. "When she arrived home he continued to wait and hid in the shower contemplating how he was going to kill her.”
Denton said he slammed her into a front door and, believing she was unconscious, sexually battered her.
“The defendant then moved the victim to the bathroom where he drowned her and then proceeded to sexually abuse her again,” Denton said.
Demich then put Cole in the septic tank.
Assistant Public Defender Shane Manship, in an emailed statement, said Demich accepted responsibility, and "will spend the rest of his life in prison with no possibility of parole."
"He unjustifiably tortured and killed Cynthia Cole, who by all accounts was a wonderful woman with family and friends that love her," Manship stated. "Their love was evident during the sentencing hearing."
Demich was arrested after Martin County sheriff’s deputies discovered her body during an extensive search of her property that began March 2, according to an arrest affidavit.
“How does this affect me as a woman?" Bevensee said. "I find myself looking behind my shower curtain like I'm a little kid again, looking for monsters under my bed.”
She said it changed the way she sees the world.
"It has broken my family and after we have already lost our father nine years ago, if I ever get married, neither of them will be there to see it,” Bevensee said.
What happened to Cynthia Cole?
Cole’s friends reported her missing after she disappeared Feb. 24 and she was not posting on social media, which was unusual, investigators were told. She was last seen alive at Jammin Jensen, a street party held on Thursday nights.
Investigators determined Demich had been a “longtime friend” of Cole’s, and he was interviewed several times before and after her body was discovered, records show.
Detectives reported that Demich made various statements about his activities the night and morning that Cole disappeared “that were determined to be false.”
Chief Medical Examiner Patricia A. Aronica concluded Cole’s death was a homicide caused by “blunt force” injuries to her head, torso, and extremities. Along with lacerations to her head, Cole’s nose was fractured, several ribs were broken, and contusions were found on her arms, thighs and leg.
There also was “evidence of asphyxia,” Aronica reported, including a fracture to the bone in the neck that supports the tongue and contusions of the neck and chin.
'Monsters really do exist'
Denton read a statement from one of Cole's sons, Dustin Bevensee, who also was there.
He said his mother was “robbed” from him, and because of the incident his 5-year-old son “now knows the darkest part of this world and that monsters really do exist.”
“My 8-month-old daughter never got to meet my mom, and that breaks my heart," Denton read. "She was so excited to have a granddaughter. You have taken her from us all and left us with a cold empty void in our hearts.”
After the court proceeding, Denton said such hastened resolutions to homicides have occurred, noting the case of Johnny Manord, who fatally beat and slashed a couple in their 80s in August 2020 in the Rocky Point community before stealing about $700 and buying drugs.
Not long after the killings, then 19th Judicial Circuit Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl stated Manord accepted a negotiated plea deal in which prosecutors would not seek the death penalty, and he would serve three consecutive life sentences.
“Nowadays the victims have a lot of input as to what they want to see happen,” Denton said. “And so we listened to them, we talked with them and they felt like this was a good plan.”
Will Greenlee is a breaking news reporter for TCPalm. Follow Will on Twitter @OffTheBeatTweet or reach him by phone at 772-267-7926. E-mail him at email@example.com
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This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Life in prison for man who killed Cynthia Cole, left body in septic tank