Prosecutors waived the death penalty Tuesday against a man charged with gunning down his mother and stepfather in northwest Bakersfield last year.

Derek Connell, 30, now faces a maximum penalty of life without the possibility of parole if convicted of the killings. 

Prosecutor Art Norris told the court that, after discussions with District Attorney Lisa Green, they decided not to seek death. Judge John W. Lua accepted the waiver and said the case will be sent back for reassignment to another court.

Norris said afterward he could not not comment due to a gag order in the case.

Connell will also receive a new lawyer due to the waiver. He had been represented by Deputy Public Defender Paul Cadman, but the case has now been turned over to Tim Blenner, also with the Public Defender's office.  

Connell is accused of shooting Christopher Tare Higginbotham and Kim Higginbotham, both 48, at their home in the 5000 block of Lily Pad Court on April 30. He's charged with two counts of first-degree murder. 

Police said in court filings that Connell used FaceTime to send video of the bodies to a relative outside the country, who then contacted police. He told the relative he had found the couple dead upon entering the home.

During questioning, Connell told investigators, "I think it was me" when asked who killed the Higginbothams, but said he had no memory of what happened, the filings said. He said he began living with them after serving a nine-month jail sentence for a DUI in Colorado.

Connell said he drinks often, sometimes to the point of passing out, and he was inebriated the night of the killings, according to the filings. He told investigators he didn't recall an argument, and said he got along well with both his mother and stepfather. 

Connell said he spoke with his stepfather before going to bed. The next thing he remembered, he told investigators, was finding the couple's bodies.

The defendant described lying next to his mother's body as he cried and told her he was sorry.

Last year, before the gag order was issued, Cadman said Connell suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from his experiences overseas during the Iraq War. 

Connell told investigators he served in the U.S. Army from 2005 to 2008, and was less than honorably discharged due to an incident involving alcohol. He said his platoon routinely raided Iraqi pharmacies for steroids and other drugs, and he used steroids for 13 months while overseas. 

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for April 19, and a trial date remains set for Jan. 29, 2018. 

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