GASTONIA, N.C. -- A Gaston County teenager pleaded guilty to the murder of a woman with cerebral palsy and her caregiver.
Jose Lopez-Rios, 19, was previously charged with two counts of first-degree murder after police found him riding around in one of the victims' car. Under a plea arrangement, Lopez-Rios pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder.
Derreck Brice, 33, and Lashae Coleman, 26, were both found dead inside a Gastonia home they shared together in May 2016.
Shavion McDaniel said her cousin Lashae had cerebral palsy and Derreck was the caregiver for her and her son. When Derreck failed to pick up the boy from daycare, the family knew something was wrong. When they got to the house, the found both cousins dead.
Police quickly arrested Jose Lopez-Rios. Investigators say he was an acquaintance of Derreck, but the nature of their relationship is not clear. Family members say they don't know the suspect.
Both the victims' and Lopez-Rios' family members spoke during the hearing.
Brice's older sister, April Banner, said her family continues to suffer more than a year after the murders.
"It was so devastating from the moment it happened to be standing here right now," Banner said.
Coleman's sister, Gail Brice Moore, had hoped Lopez-Rios would spent the rest of his life in prison.
"I'll never have closure," Moore said. "But if God's willing, maybe I'll have answers or some understanding."
Lopez-Rios' mother begged the judge for mercy.
She believed there was some sort of conflict between her son and Brice prior to the killings, but she didn't go into additional details.
"Something big has to happen because this is not my son," she said.
Before officially beginning his prison sentence, Lopez-Rios spoke in public for the first time since his arrest.
"If it means anything for the family, I'm sorry," he said. "I don't know where my mind was that day to be honest."
Lopez-Rios is not an American citizen and grew up in Honduras. After his prison sentence, he's expected to be deported.
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