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Death penalty eyed in woman's fatal beating after co-defendant pleads guilty

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One of two people accused in a January killing pleaded guilty to his crimes on Thursday, leaving prosecutors eyeing the pursuit of the death penalty against his co-defendant.

Associate District Judge Clifford Smith found Nicholas Johnson — who, along with Brinlee Denison, stood accused in the Jan. 4 beating death of Sarah Maguire at Maguire’s west Tulsa home — guilty of first-degree murder and larceny of an automobile.

The 29-year-old will face sentencing in late July, when District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said the state will argue for life without parole.

Denison, 25, still faces the same charges. She requested a jury trial after waiving her right to a preliminary hearing.

Kunzweiler said prosecutors will be weighing whether the case could qualify for capital punishment.

Officers conducting a welfare check on Maguire found her dead from blunt-force trauma to her head and face in the living room of her home in the 3900 block of South 28th West Avenue, according to a court affidavit.

Along with other items of value and her credit cards, Maguire’s vehicle was missing, and police in Fayetteville, Arkansas, later found it with Johnson and Denison sleeping inside.

The two reportedly told police they beat Maguire with a crowbar, stole her car and funded their trip across state lines with her stolen credit cards.

Maguire, 29, had allowed the transient couple to take shelter in a shed behind her home, police said.

Johnson alleged that Denison was also in a relationship with Maguire, an affidavit states. According to statements he made to police, Johnson’s jealousy of the women’s relationship spurred plans to take Maguire’s life.

Johnson alleged that Denison was part of the planning and the execution of the slaying, and he reportedly told detectives that he and Denison had sex in Maguire’s bed after the beating as he could hear Maguire “struggling to live” in the living room.

The two reportedly left the woman to die and fled the state in her car, throwing clothing they were wearing at the scene out of the vehicle along the way.

Kunzweiler said he was pleased that Johnson took responsibility for his role in the crimes, which he said came as a “relief” to the victim’s family, and he emphasized that Denison is still presumed innocent.

Both remain in the Tulsa County jail awaiting their next court date. Denison is scheduled to appear in mid-June.

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Staff Writer

I write because I care about people and peace, and I believe the most informed people make the best decisions. I joined the Tulsa World in 2019 to cover breaking news, and I currently cover crime and courts. Phone: 918-581-8455

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