MINNEAPOLIS -- Tina Leja was sentenced to 17 years, six months in prison this morning for her part in the murder and mutilation of Bobbie Dee Holder, whose body was found in the town of Colburn July 8.
Leja 26, formerly of Holcombe, was found guilty in January of second degree murder, second degree assault and being an accomplice after the fact to the murder, which took place on July 5 in Minneapolis.
Judge Thor Anderson in pronouncing sentence rejected Leja's pleas of mercy. "In this whole long sordid and squalid tale, your footprints are in every chapter," he said.
Leja, in her defense during trial and in arguments in sentencing, tried to focus attention on her boyfriend, Darnell "Tequila" Smith, 25, who shot Holder and dismembered his body.
Smith was convicted of first degree murder last week and is facing a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. His brother, Chaka Smith, 18, pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was also sentenced to 20 years in prison this morning.
Andre Lamont Parker, 30, who helped Leja dispose of Holder's body parts, was sentenced Monday to 48 months in prison.
In her statements to the court today, Leja tearfully expressed regret for the events that led to Holder's death. "If I had not made him (Darnell Smith) angry, Bobbie Holder might very well be here today," she said.
Leja said what she did was wrong and selfish, but she couldn't change it. She also spoke about the terror and fear she felt.
Her plea led Anderson to ask her what she thought she did wrong. Then the judge said: "It sounds like you don't think you did anything wrong to Bobbie Holder."
Anderson soundly rejected the defense strategy to portray Leja as a victim. He said that argument had an overtone "that you were really victimized by this whole thing. The first thing I want to tell you is that there is only victim in this case, Bobbie Dee Holder."
Anderson reviewed the case step-by-step, starting with Leja's relationship with Darnell Smith in the Stillwater (Minn.) Prison. He said if she had during her duty as a prison guard, Holder would be alive.
Just before pronouncing sentence, Anderson said in a response to a defense plea to trust Leja: "I have a picture here of the last person who trusted you, and he was dismembered," he said, holding a picture.
Anderson also sentenced Leja to 81 months in prison for being an accessory after the fact to the murder. But he stayed that sentence for 10 years, with the 10 years to begin after the prison sentence is completed. So Leja could eventually serve that time should she get into further trouble.
Under Minnesota law, Leja must serve at least two-thirds of the 17 1/2-year sentence.
Members of Leja's family wept after the sentence was pronounced.
Holder's mother, Leda Holder Fashaw, made a statement at the hearing's start. She said she held Leja responsible for her son's death, but she also expressed sympathy for Leja's family, as did Anderson.
Fashaw expressed the greatest sadness for Holder's son, who will grow up without his father.
Smith, a leader of the Gangster Disciples gang in Minneapolis, murdered Holder because he thought Holder was attracted to Leja, and because he thought Holder had once tried to set him up for a robbery, which did not take place, according to testimony at Leja's trial.
The prosecution maintained that Leja helped lure Holder to his death by telling him in a telephone conversation that Tequila Smith was not there and Holder could come over. When Holder arrived, he was ambushed by the Smith brothers and murdered. His body was then dismembered.
Tequila Smith told Leja and a reluctant Andre Parker to dispose of the body and Holder's vehicle. The car was left at a park and ride in Baldwin. Parker and Leja buried Holder's torso on property Leja's father, Elroy, owned in the town of Colburn, where it was discovered by Elroy on July 8.
Holder's head and limbs still have not been found. Leja testified that they were thrown in a remote area off of Interstate 35 south of Duluth.
estigators closed in on those responsible for the murder, Smith and Leja fled, first to Montana, then to Mississippi, where they were eventually arrested.
Leja maintained that she acted out of fear for her own life when she followed Tequila Smith's instructions and failed to contact police about the matter despite numerous opportunities.
Leja, who was once Homecoming queen at Lake Holcombe High School, met Tequila Smith while she was a guard at Stillwater (Minn.) Prison. She was fired for having a relationship with him, which she continued after his release about two months before the murder.
Leja could have been sentenced to a maximum 62 years in prison. Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence of 12 1/2 years for second degree unintentional murder.
Leja gambled and lost in her criminal case. She declined a plea bargain in which she would plead guilty to aiding an offender, with a maximum penalty of 20 years and a recommended sentence of about 6 years.
Reach Mark Gunderman at email@example.com.