Robert Gatrell

Robert Todd Gatrell, the older of two cousins accused of killing Michael Palmer in Dec. 2009 and then killing Palmer’s 23-month-old daughter Hannah Grace Dowdie by setting her on fire while she sat strapped into a car seat, pleaded guilty this morning to two counts of capital murder, kidnapping and arson before Circuit Judge Chris Piazza. He was sentenced to life without parole on the murder charges, life on kidnaping and six years for arson, with 10 years added on for using a firearm in the crime.

According to an affidavit released by police at the time of his arrest, Robert Gatrell told relatives that he did it because Palmer owed him money. The Arkansas Times has previously written about the case.

Gatrell’s cousin, Daniel Gatrell, who was 16 at the time of the murders, pleaded guilty last Thursday to a reduced charge of manslaughter in the killing of Michael Palmer and first degree murder (reduced from capital murder) in the killing Hannah Dowdie. He was sentenced to 10 years on the manslaughter charge and 40 on the murder charge, to be served concurrently. Piazza nol prossed the arson and kidnapping charges against him.

UPDATE: Appearing in the hallway after the sentencing, Michael Palmer’s mother Sharon Pittman said that she was happy with the outcome, and thanked Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Johnson.

“I’m happy that we don’t have to go through the two trials,” Pittman said. “I hope nobody ever has to go through what we had to go through.”

More on the jump…