A North Carolina handyman has admitted to murdering and dismembering the bodies of a pregnant former Food Network Star contestant and her husband in 2015

By Harriet Sokmensuer
April 28, 2017 03:53 PM
Cristie Schoen Codd

A North Carolina handyman has pleaded guilty to murdering and dismembering a pregnant former Food Network Star contestant and her husband in 2015, PEOPLE confirms.

On Thursday, 37-year-old Robert Jason Owens admitted in court to murdering Cristie Schoen Codd, her husband, J.T. Codd, and their unborn daughter, Skylar, in what authorities called “the most disturbing killings in [local] history.”

Owens, who was in the middle of disposing of the bodies when he was arrested in 2015, pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of dismembering remains, according to authorities.

He will spend 59 and a half to 74 and a half years in prison. He no longer faces the death penalty as part of his plea.

In a video statement, Buncombe County, North Carolina, District Attorney Todd Williams called the deal “tantamount to a sentence of death in prison.”

Owens worked for the Codds as a handyman contractor before they were killed. He was originally charged with two counts of felony first-degree murder, felony murder of an unborn child, breaking and entering and larceny.

He has claimed he accidentally ran over Cristie and her husband while they were trying to help him get his truck out of a ditch, CBS News reports.

But some questions about what actually happened remain unanswered — and may stay that way.

“Because there are no surviving witnesses and Jason Owens had exclusive control of the crime scene for several days, and he had nearly completed the gruesome project of cremating his victims’ remains, we will never know many of the facts surrounding the Codds’ deaths,” D.A. Williams said in his statement.

Owens previously told investigators that he used an electric saw to dismember the Codds’ bodies, WSPA reports.

To hide any evidence, Owens said he burned the the remains in a wood stove on his property. He also said he sold some of the couple’s personal items to make their disappearance look like a robbery.

From left: Cristie Schoen Codd and J.T. Codd.
Courtesy Matt Hunter
Robert Jason Owens in 2015.

The Codds were reported missing from their home in Leicester, North Carolina, on March 15, 2015, by a concerned family member. The next day, investigators discovered their remains in Owens’ wood stove after receiving a tip.

Cristie, 38, was a film-set caterer with a handful of credits as an actress and stuntwoman, and J.T., 45, worked behind the scenes on film and TV sets as a grip. (Cristie appeared on season eight of Food Network Star, in 2012.)

The couple had purchased 36 acres outside of Asheville, North Carolina, according to friends, and were working toward creating a self-sustaining farm to support their eventual goal of opening a farm-to-table cafe.

They were married months before their deaths at the community center near their home, in a joyous ceremony where the large number of guests included Owens.

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Owens’ attorneys, Victoria Jayne and Sean Devereux, could not be reached for comment about the plea.

In court, Jayne said her client was remorseful and “grateful” to close the case, the Citizen-Times reports.

Upon hearing his sentencing, Owens addressed the couple’s family: “I want you to know that I am sincerely sorry for the loss of your loved ones and the pain and suffering it’s caused you,” he said, the Citizen Times reports.

“I’m grateful for you for the mercy you have left with this court to show me. I am truly sorry.”

Prosecutors also shared a message with the family.

Williams ended his statement by saying, “I wish the families of Christie, J.T. and Skylar peace and privacy as they continue to cope as best as anyone can cope with the irreparable loss they have suffered.”