The Salt Lake Tribune, Rick Egan / AP
Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 | 4:52 p.m.
OGDEN, Utah — When she died, Alexis Rasmussen was a 16-year-old Utah girl trying to find her own identity, her mother said.
Instead, Rasmussen found Dea Millerberg, a 41-year-old woman who was sentenced Thursday for helping her husband dispose of the teen's body after baby-sitting turned into a night of sex and drugs.
"I go back over and over again, thinking what I could have done to make things different. I wonder if she ever does the same thing," said the girl's mother, Dawn Miera. "I don't know what Lexie found in Dea that she could not get from me."
Prosecutors said the Millerbergs gave the teen drugs in exchange for baby-sitting services, and the three had a drug-fueled sexual relationship that led to Rasmussen's death from an overdose in 2011.
A state judge sentenced her to up to five years in prison Thursday, calling the crime heinous and depraved.
"She lost all her common sense, and was not in a position to help Alexis when she needed her the most," said Judge W. Brent West. He said he would have leveled a harsher penalty if not for a plea deal prosecutors agreed to after Millerberg testified against her husband.
Prosecutor Dee Smith said Rasmussen's death wasn't ruled a homicide and he might not have been able to convict 38-year-old Eric Millerberg without her testimony.
"He was the one who was most responsible for this act," Smith said. Eric Millerberg put a hit out on his wife after she told a jury that her husband injected the girl with heroin and methamphetamine, defense attorney Michael Bouwhuis said. Eric Millerberg was sentenced to up to life in prison.
Bouwhuis asked the judge for probation for Dea Millerberg, saying she had been off drugs for three years since Rasmussen's death. She moved to Wyoming to live with her aunt and regained custody of her children.
Millerberg had an unstable mother, started drinking at 13 and later turned to drugs, her attorney said. She was abused by Eric Millerberg as well as by a previous husband. She nevertheless finished high school, earned a nursing degree and bought a home, he said.
But after Millerberg was released from a stint in jail, she started using drugs again. The night Rasmussen died, prosecutors said she helped her husband put the girl's body in their car. The couple left their 6-year-old daughter at home, strapped their baby into their car and drove to a remote, wooded area to dump the girl's body. Rasmussen was missing for more than a month before police found the body near a river.
Millerberg pleaded guilty in June to three felonies, including desecration of a human body. The county attorney said Thursday that he was satisfied with the sentence in what he called a difficult case.
"It's the kind of thing that makes you hug your kids at night," he said.