TAMPA — The man at the center of a bizarre double-murder case that brought to light a small-time neo-Nazi group made a guilty plea Monday morning, six years after the killings.
In an agreement with state prosecutors, Devon Arthurs pleaded guilty to two reduced charges of second-degree murder and three counts of kidnapping. In exchange, he agreed to a 45-year prison sentence.
Arthurs, red-bearded and donning a red jail uniform, sat straight-backed and spoke at length after pleading guilty. He apologized to the families of the two men he killed and denounced extremism and hate.
“I feel I can be an advocate against extremism,” Arthurs said. “I’d like to take this moment to tell the world to stay away from extremist groups. ... I’m very sorry for everyone that was involved. I’m very sorry for everything that has happened.”
Defense attorneys had prepared to argue that Arthurs was insane when he killed Andrew Oneschuk and Jeremy Himmelman in 2017 at the New Tampa apartment they shared. Mental health experts opined that Arthurs was on the autism spectrum and also suffered from schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness that bears traits of both schizophrenia and mood disorders.
The case was set for a two-week trial to begin Monday morning. Instead, the plea deal was reached.
Assistant Public Defender Maria Dunker said in court that a mental health expert had met with Arthurs on Sunday and determined that he was of sound mind to make the guilty plea.
Arthurs, 24, also agreed to serve 15 years of probation after his release from prison. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella also ordered him to comply with any recommended mental health treatment upon his release.
The guilty plea came almost exactly six years after the killings.
On May 19, 2017, Arthurs walked into a leasing office at the Hamptons apartments in New Tampa and announced to several people that he had just killed his roommates. A property manager called 911 and watched as Arthurs walked to the nearby Green Planet Smoke Shop. He entered the store, brandished a handgun and held three people hostage.
Tampa police officers soon arrived and persuaded Arthurs to let the hostages go. He then surrendered. Placed in a police patrol car, he once again proclaimed that he had killed his roommates.
Officers found Himmelman, 22, and Oneschuk, 18, in an apartment close by. Both men had been shot with a WASR-10 assault rifle.
Another roommate, Brandon Russell, was not home at the time of the killings. He happened upon the scene shortly before police arrived and ran out of the home screaming.
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As police searched the apartment, they discovered white nationalist and anti-government literature and a framed photo of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. In an attached garage, they also found explosive materials.
The items were said to belong to Russell.
Arthurs told detectives that Russell, a National Guardsman, was the founder of a neo-Nazi group known as Atomwaffen Division. Arthurs had also once been a member. He claimed the group had plans to carry out terrorist acts, including launching explosives into a nuclear power plant.
Arthurs also told police that he’d converted to Islam, though he seemed to lack a deep understanding of the faith. He claimed he killed Himmelman and Oneschuk after an argument.
Russell was arrested on federal charges for the explosives and later served five years in prison. Earlier this year, he was arrested again after federal law enforcement officials said he plotted with a woman in Maryland to launch an attack on an electrical power grid. That case remains ongoing.
The murder case against Arthurs was prolonged for several years largely due to concerns over his mental state. He was twice declared incompetent to proceed in court and committed to a state psychiatric hospital. He returned to the local jail to await trial after more than a year of treatment.
As he spoke in court Monday, Arthurs said he was “brainwashed” by extremist groups. He also mentioned experiences with drugs. He vowed to dedicate the rest of his life to helping people avoid such things.
“I feel like I can honor the memory of Jeremy and Andrew by being a better human being,” he said. “I’ve let my family down. I’ve let myself down. And I’ve let my country down. And I think about that every single day.”
Himmelman’s sister, Riley Borghetti, watched the proceedings Monday by videoconference. She spoke directly to Arthurs.
“I don’t know you,” she said. “I’ve never met you. I hope what you’re saying is true. And I also just want you to know that decisions were made that were irreparable, for a lot of us, for a really long time. And we’re still suffering.”
Borghetti mentioned struggles with addiction. She recalled overdosing while looking at Arthurs’ picture on a news article. She survived and achieved sobriety.
“There’s obviously some mental illness going on,” she said of Arthurs. “I don’t know what happened in your life. I don’t know what happened for you to get to the place that you did. And I hope you heal from it. I really do.”
Since her brother’s death, she said, she has also resolved to be a voice against extremism.
“This is a system issue,” she said. “And long as the rhetoric is what it is in our world, this will continue to happen.”