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Utah squatter takes plea deal in teen farmer's murder; leads detectives to 'skeletal remains'

Utah detectives and the FBI have recovered the remains of 19-year-old Dylan Rounds after his suspected killer James Brenner agreed to a plea deal.

When Dylan Rounds went missing just shy of two years ago, the 19-year-old farmer from Idaho had just planted the first crop on his own Utah land.

Local investigators and the FBI found skeletal remains, presumed to be his, in a remote area of Lucin, Utah, a 200-mile drive from Salt Lake City, the Box Elder County Sheriff's Office announced.

"It's another thing to work through," his mother, Candice Cooley, said Wednesday morning.

The family had been notified that a plea deal had been reached last Monday after a month of negotiations, she said, and the FBI recovered her son's remains Tuesday morning.


She said she's been preparing for the discovery after a month of back and forth before prosecutors and the defense agreed to a three- to 30-year prison sentence in exchange for the location of Rounds' remains.

She said she is also calling on Utah to enact stiffer penalties after learning of a rejected proposal that would have locked up suspected killer James Brenner for just half as long.

"Our hearts go out to the family of Dylan Rounds," the sheriff's office said in a statement. "We offer our sincerest condolences for the loss of their family member. We understand that the pain of their loss is immeasurable, and we want to express our deepest sympathies to them. It is our hope that they can find peace moving forward."

The teen's last known contact was with his grandmother on May 30, 2022, telling her over the phone that he had to put his grain truck in the shed because it was about to rain.

Brenner was squatting in a trailer nearby.


The 60-year-old, who deputies charged with Rounds' murder last year, led detectives to the teen's remains yesterday as part of a plea deal, according to authorities.

The Box Elder County Sheriff's Office identified Brenner as a suspect shortly after the teen went missing. However, without a body it took time to build the case. 

Law enforcement spent months canvassing the area in an operation that included K-9s, drones, helicopters, ATVs and horses, but could not find him. But they found his boots and his truck near a barn five miles from his camper. 


The FBI also got involved, arresting him on federal firearms charges after it emerged that he shot another man in Maryland in the 1980s. 

As part of their search for Rounds, investigators served several search warrants. 

A neighbor told investigators that Brenner asked him to conceal three black powder guns and a .22-caliber rifle without a serial number. After being contacted by the FBI, the neighbor gave the weapons to authorities. Citing past felony convictions, they charged Brenner with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

In March 2023, deputies found Rounds' phone – and an incriminating video on it that allegedly showed Brenner wearing bloody clothes and cleaning a gun, Cooley previously told Fox News Digital.

"That phone told us a lot, besides having the video on it and the data," Cooley told Fox News Digital in September. "Amazing they got the video off of it."

Detectives recovered Brenner's shirt too – and testing confirmed the presence of Rounds' DNA on it.

"Everything's there," Cooley told Fox News Digital in September. "We know Brenner did it. There's no ands, ifs or buts or doubts or who else was involved or anything like that. We just need to find Dylan…we want to know what happened that day. Just be able to put things together."

Rounds' family began private searches of the area around his final phone ping to no avail. But Brenner led the FBI to the same area, where they found him.

Cooley has described her son as almost entirely focused on his farm. He did not use drugs and did not spend time on video games or social media, she said.

Brenner was an "acquaintance" of her son, but no friend, she said.

Court records show Brenner has also agreed to a plea deal in his federal firearms case.

His past criminal history includes malicious wounding, malicious shooting and three prior convictions for being a felon in possession of a firearm, court records show. He was living on a plot of land next to Rounds' farm without the owner's permission, according to authorities.

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