On Thanksgiving eve, 24-year-old Caleb Allen Russell Leyland pleaded guilty to the murder of 19-year-old Cynthia “CeCe” Hoffman, who in June of 2019 was lured to the Thunderbird Falls trail, where she was bound and gagged with duct tape, shot once in the back of the head and thrown into the Eklutna River by five who had plotted to murder her.
Appearing before Anchorage Superior Court Judge Andrew Peterson, Leyland admitted to just one count of murder in the second degree. Second-degree murder is typically murder with malicious intent but not premeditated. Charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder were dropped in exchange for the second-degree guilty plea.
The crime orchestrated by the group of teenagers was masterminded by an out-of-state man named Darin Schilmiller, who conned the teens into committing the murder in exchange for money. Leyland was 19 at the time he took part in the crime.
The plot was locally hatched by CeCe Hoffman’s friend, Denali Brehmer, in her online relationship with Schilmiller, who was going by the name of “Tyler” and who said he was from Kansas. “Tyler” sent Brehmer a photograph of another young male, saying the photo was of himself: “Tyler” also convinced Brehmer that he was a millionaire.
As Schilmiller and Brehmer continued chatting online, they developed a plan to rape and murder someone in Alaska. Schilmiller offered Brehmer $9 million to carry out the murder and to have photographs or videos of the murder sent to him. Brehmer agreed to commit the murder and solicited four friends, including Leyland, 16-year-old Kayden McIntosh and two other juveniles to assist her in planning and carrying out the murder.
“Digital evidence and statements show Brehmer was communicating with and sending videos and/or photographs of the events surrounding the incident to Schilmiller at his directive throughout the duration of the event,” the Alaska Department of Law wrote.
McIntosh is the one who is accused of actually pulling the trigger on the weapon. He has had several court appearances since February; the next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 6.
Schilmiller, of New Salisbury, Indiana, took a plea deal in August when the first-degree and second-degree murder, and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder charges were dropped, as he pleaded to first-degree solicitation of murder. There is wasn’t an agreement at the time between the prosecutors and Schilmiller regarding any specific term of imprisonment.
Judge Peterson may sentence Schilmiller to a term of imprisonment of no less than five years and no more than 99 years. Sentencing for Schilmiller is scheduled to begin Jan. 8, 2024, in front of Judge Peterson.
The terms of the Leyland’s plea agreement allow for a maximum term of imprisonment of 75 years, with 25 years suspended, potentially leading to a 50-year sentence. The sentencing phase is scheduled to start on June 10, 2024, with Judge Peterson presiding.
Leyland remains in the custody of the Alaska Department of Corrections, with no possibility of release under any conditions.