A convicted felon was sentenced Monday to life in prison for killing a 57-year-old woman in her Aurora home in 2017.
Terrence Terell Straughter, 51, of Aurora was found guilty July 31 of first-degree murder in the death of Dana Sems. Sems’ son found her battered body buried under a pile of clothes in her bedroom.
“This trusting, gentle woman was violently murdered by a man she had befriended. She was likely unaware that this monster had a history of attacking women and had only recently been released from prison,” said District Attorney George Brauchler. “He has proven that he is immune to rehabilitative efforts. The only way to keep the community safe is to keep him locked up forever, and that is precisely what the law requires. We will continue to hold those accountable who visit violence upon the innocent.”
Straughter served eight years in prison on a domestic violence assault and had been out less than 6 months when mutual acquaintances took him to Sems’ apartment on South Sable Boulevard on Dec. 11, 2017. Others who were there reported that Sems and Straughter argued.
Sems had a seizure disorder. The morning of Dec. 12, 2017, her medical home alarm company was unable to contact her. Ultimately, her son went to check on her and found her body.
Aurora police arrived and interviewed neighbors. Straughter was quickly identified as a suspect.
The coroner reported Sems had a broken neck, fractured ribs, and cuts on bruises on her head, face, neck and body. Straughter had tried to wash the body. He put a lotion-y substance and salt on the body in an attempt to destroy evidence.
His DNA was found on a 6¼-inch piece of bratwurst lodged in Sems’ throat.
The jury found Straughter guilty. The mandatory penalty for first-degree murder is life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Sems’ family and friends filled two rows of seats in the courtroom for sentencing.
“My daughter was 4 years old when her grandmother died,” Sems’ daughter told the judge. “She asks over and over what happened, and I can’t tell her the truth because it’s too hard,” the woman said through tears.
Sems’ brother-in-law also spoke.
“Our family cannot talk to Dana, cannot see her, except for her gravestone,” he said. “We cannot give her any support or embrace her because of what happened. I have never seen anything this heinous.”
Senior Deputy District Attorney Jake Adkins noted that in addition to the previous Colorado case, Straughter had a domestic violence assault conviction out of Tennessee in 2005.
“When this defendant commits acts of violence, he commits them against women,” said Adkins, who prosecuted the case with Deputy District Attorney Kevin Keyes. “With this sentence, this defendant has committed his last act of violence against anyone outside of a prison.”