In a courtroom packed with grieving survivors of the people he killed, 19-year-old Mauricio Eduardo Johnson pleaded guilty today to three counts of first-degree murder and three special allegations of use of a firearm causing death.

Johnson, from his Utah prison. File photo.

Many in the courtroom audience wept as Deputy District Attorney Roger Rees recounted the devastating events of Feb. 9, when Johnson murdered Nikki Dion Metcalf and his fiancee Margarett Lee Moon, both 40, and Moon’s 16-year-old daughter Shelly Moon. All were shot dead in the Moons’ home on Bear River Rancheria.

Johnson is scheduled for sentencing Jan. 21, when he will be given a prison sentence of 150 years to life. The sentencing is expected to last a full day, with numerous people speaking about how the murders have affected their lives.

Rees, reading from a written statement this morning, said “several minors” in the Moon home gave Johnson permission to enter the house that night. At some point Metcalf found Johnson and Shelly Moon together in her bedroom, Rees said, and the two men got into a struggle.

“Mr. Johnson pulled a gun out of his backpack and shot Nikki, then Margarett and then Jane Doe (Shelly Moon),” Rees said.

Johnson reportedly told one person he decided to shoot the girl because he didn’t want witnesses.

Rees acknowledged not all friends and family members of the victims approve of Johnson being allowed to plead guilty. Some hoped for a trial, and that Johnson would be convicted of the special circumstance of committing multiple murders. A special-circumstance conviction means life in prison without possibility of parole.

The district attorney dropped the special circumstance charge in exchange for Johnson’s plea, and with the knowledge that if Johnson is ever granted parole, it will be in the distant future.

In a statement released this afternoon, Rees said it’s possible Johnson could have been convicted at trial and sentenced to life without parole.

“In agreeing to this plea,” he wrote, “the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office considered several factors.”

Among those, he said, was that a trial would require testimony from young people who have suffered a tragedy. Margarett Moon’s two younger children were in the house when their mother and sister were shot. Also considered were the wishes of the victims’ families.

In addition, Rees said, there may be hope for the positive transformation of a person who committed his crimes at the age of 18. Finally, the prosecution took into account likely changes in California law.

As the law stands now, all “youthful offenders” are entitled to a parole hearing in their 25th year, unless they are serving life without parole.

State legislators would like to modify the law so all youthful offenders, regardless of their original sentence, would be given a parole hearing after 25 years.

“The defendant’s agreed-upon sentence would be the maximum sentence he could receive if the law under consideration takes place,” Rees said.

Also, as Rees pointed out, it is extremely difficult to be paroled after a conviction for first-degree murder.

Today in court Johnson was calm as he admitted his crimes, answering “guilty” each time Judge Timothy Canning, reading the charges one by one, asked him for a plea. Hours after the shootings Johnson fled, accompanied by his mother’s boyfriend Von Keener. They were caught and arrested while driving through Utah. Johnson fought extradition to California for several months. Keener agreed to be extradited, and upon his return to Humboldt he was convicted of failure to register as a sex offender. While out of custody and wearing an ankle monitor, Keener removed the monitor and is again a fugitive.

Johnson is represented by attorney Andrea Sullivan. It was Sullivan who offered to have Johnson plead guilty if the special circumstance charge was dismissed.