ONTARIO—Two Payette men face up to life in prison for the 2012 murder of a preschool teacher.

Payette County Judge Thomas J. Ryan on Thursday sentenced Michael Culley, 26, and Johnathon Hernandez, 19, to 45 years to up to life in prison for the murder of Elizabeth Baune, 45. The sentencing followed two days of testimony.

During the proceedings Tuesday and Wednesday, the court heard arguments and expert and family testimony in the sentencing hearings. Culley and Hernandez were formally charged Nov. 13, 2012, of fatally stabbing Baune.

Culley had been living with Baune, his cousin, because he was struggling with addiction, Payette County Prosecutor Anne-Marie Kelso said. Culley and Hernandez stabbed her 29 times during a burglary before Culley drove a large kitchen knife through Baune’s head. The two then fled the scene.

Kelso said Baune did not die right away. She said Baune’s body was not found where the majority of her wounds were sustained, and Baune later succumbed to her injuries.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor Barbara Richart presented details about behavior from both Culley and Hernandez during their incarceration. In one incident, Hernandez punched a Payette County jailer, and Culley had participated in a scheme to attempt to sue his jailers, Richart said.

Eight family members and a friend testified at the hearing for the state. They told stories about how, as a Head Start teacher, Baune had used her own money to pay for school supplies and extra food to send home with children who would otherwise go without.

Defense attorneys Matt Roker and Virginia Bond detailed Culley’s and Hernandez’s childhoods, describing them as tragic. The attorneys brought in expert witness Dr. Richard Cervantes of California to discuss cultural and socioeconomic factors that led to Hernandez’s involvement in the crime.

Culley and Hernandez will be eligible for parole after 45 years.

Kelso extended thanks to the Idaho State Police, the Payette County Sheriff’s Office, the Payette Police Department, the Fruitland Police Department, the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office and the Ontario Police Department for their dedication and effort in the case.

Zachary Chastaine is a news reporter at The Argus Observer. He can be reached at (541) 823-4815 or by emailing zachc@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

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