A thinner Todd A. Mills addressed Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Greg Steensland firmly with “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” as the judge made sure he understood his rights Wednesday.
Mills, accused of sexually assaulting at least three women in Council Bluffs, confirmed to Steensland that he would give up his right to a trial.
When Steensland asked Mills how he pleaded to three counts of second-degree sexual abuse, Mills looked down at the table where he sat and said “Guilty” three times.
For the 46-year-old father of five from Shelby, Wednesday brought an end to what prosecutors have called the progressively brutal attacks of a serial rapist.
It all began to unravel for Mills – who in his other life was a volunteer fireman and family man – when he was arrested in Omaha in August 2010 after raping two prostitutes at gunpoint.
In September 2011, Douglas County District Judge Thomas Otepka sentenced Mills to 110 to 140 years in prison. The sentence means Mills wouldn’t be eligible for parole until he turns 100.
But investigators believed Mills was also tied to a string of sexual assaults that occurred in Council Bluffs between 2008 and 2010, and Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber said the victims in those cases also deserved justice.
In four sexual assault cases reported to the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office, the women said they were abducted in Omaha and then driven to a remote area north of Council Bluffs.
One of the assaults was reported in December 2008, when a 38-year-old woman said she was abducted near 42nd and Leavenworth streets in Omaha.
The other incidents were June 10, 2010, when a 48-year-old said she was taken from 24th and Laird streets; May 14, 2010, when a 33-year-old said she was abducted from 29th Street and Park Avenue; and Aug. 1, 2009, when a 44-year-old woman said she was taken from 24th and Binney streets.
All four were left on River Road, near Interstate 29 north of the city, after being sexually assaulted. The May 14, 2010, assault appears to have been the most violent, officials said. Mills raped the woman twice – once with a gun barrel – and bit her several times.
Chief Deputy County Attorney Jon Jacobmeier said the county was prepared to take three of the sexual assault cases to trial, which was scheduled to begin on Tuesday.
“Of our original four victims, we were able to find three; and they wanted their day in court,” Jacobmeier said. “No matter that they are alleged prostitutes, they are still human beings; and they didn’t ask for this.
“(Mills) approached them. He pulled the gun. From then on they were just scared women like anyone else would be, and they did what they were told.”
Mills pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree sexual assault, which is a Class B felony in Iowa and carries a mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison. Because it is considered a forcible felony, 70 percent of the sentence must be served before the offender is eligible for parole.
Under terms of the plea agreement, two of the 25-year sentences will be served consecutively with the third being served concurrently. All of the Iowa prison time will be served concurrently with Mills’ Nebraska sentence.
Jacobmeier said the county offered the plea bargain as a “balancing act.” He said by Mills admitting guilt in the cases, it was a satisfactory ending to the ordeal.
A solemn Greg Jones, Mills’ attorney, said his client accepted the plea agreement because it was better than the possibility of being found guilty at trial.
“The plea offer made was significantly better than what he could have gotten at trial, and he decided it was better to have some opportunity at parole rather than face life sentences,” Jones said.
“If he makes it out (of prison), he won’t be much of a threat to society,” Jacobmeier added.
While there is a mandatory sentence in the plea agreement, Mills’ official sentencing will take place on Wednesday, March 28.