Ariz. Man Sentenced to Die After Murdering Two People and Burying Their Bodies in Mom’s Backyard

Ariz. Man Sentenced to Die After Murdering Two People and Burying Their Bodies in Mom’s BackyardEntertainment

An Arizona man convicted of murdering two people who were found mummified in a box in the backyard of his mother’s home was sentenced this week to die for his crime, PEOPLE confirms.

Alan Champagne was found guilty in June of first-and second-degree murder, respectively, in the 2011 slayings of Brandi Hoffner and Philmon Tapaha.

Hoffner, 26, was strangled with an electrical cord — for which Champagne was given the death penalty — while the 30-year-old Tapaha was shot in the face.

Champagne was further found guilty of kidnapping and two counts of abandonment/concealment of a body.

“I understand the difficult task faced by this jury and appreciate the time they devoted to both hearing the case and arriving at a verdict,” Maricopa County, Arizona, Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.

Champagne’s defense attorney, Maria Schaffer, says that her client “told both the jury and the judge that he did not commit these murders.”

Prosecutors argued that Champagne killed Hoffner and Tapaha in June 2011 at the home he shared with his then-girlfriend, Elise Garcia, and later buried their bodies in his mother’s backyard in Phoenix.

Garcia testified that she was present during the murders and both heard the gunshot that killed Tapaha and witnessed Champagne strangle Hoffner, who reportedly begged for her life. Garcia was given 16 years for her own role in the deaths and in return gave key testimony against her ex.

“She was not a credible witness,” Schaffer says of Garcia. “She got a deal — she was looking at life in prison and she got 16 years.”

Schaffer says that, “having known Alan for five and a half years and representing him,” she has “a different perspective” on the case.

“I acknowledge that the crimes Alan was accused of doing were very bad, but after investigating his life and background you can understand why someone ends up like Alan,” she explains. “He was in prison at the age of 19. He was running the streets as a 13-year-old. He grew up in a very impoverished neighborhood. He lacked any type of a male role model. He has a long history of drug and alcohol abuse. He has a history of huffing paint as a teenager.”

• PEOPLE’s special edition True Crime Stories: 35 Real Cases That Inspired the Show Law & Order is on sale now.

Soon after the killings, Champagne and Garcia were pulled over and police discovered a bag of rotting flesh, Tapaha’s Social Security card and Hoffner’s purse, according to the Arizona Republic.

Prosecutors say that Champagne was a person of interest at the time but they didn’t have anything linking him to the crimes.

Then, in March 2012, police went searching for Champagne in an unrelated case and they found him barricaded in his mother’s home, with his girlfriend held as a hostage. In the ensuing altercation, Schaffer says, he “shot at the SWAT team and shot at 24 different officers.”

He was subsequently taken into custody and convicted of 24 counts of attempted first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 700 years in prison.

A year later, in March 2013, the bodies of Hoffner and Tapaha were finally found by a landscaper doing work for the new owner of the house.

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

“They were found together in one big box,” Schaffer says. “They were buried a couple of feet. The bodies were mummified and wrapped in a blanket, and the box was sealed pretty well.”

Prosecutors presented evidence during the penalty phase that Champagne was a member of a prison gang and had sought to intimidate witnesses in the trial.

His recent violent convictions are not his first: He was previously convicted of second-degree murder for his role in a 1991 gang-related shooting, for which he served 14 years in prison.

Source: People.com