The family of a Jefferson County man who was murdered almost five years ago is alarmed that a woman who helped dispose of the victim’s dismembered body is being considered for parole just months after she was sentenced to six years in prison.
Lila Atencio, 22, is scheduled to go before the Colorado State Board of Parole on Wednesday, five years almost to the day after Joseph Brinson was shot to death at his rural Jefferson County home on Jan. 16, 2019.
Atencio, who was 17 at the time, was not present during the slaying but helped two men load Brinson’s dismembered body into trash bags and then dump the remains in a remote part of eastern Arapahoe County.
“Justice has not been served for Joe when it comes to Lila,” said Amy Frost, Brinson’s aunt. “The other two perpetrators, they’re in prison. One is spending life in prison; one has 46 years in prison. That is all good. That is not what keeps me up at night. What keeps me up at night is Lila. And the fact no one is holding her responsible for what she has done and she can continue to break the law.”
In the winter of 2018, tensions were rising between Joseph Brinson, 28, and his roommate, William Irvine, then 26. The pair rented a single family home on Mica Mine Gulch Road, in the foothills southwest of Littleton.
A simmering argument between the two grew until Irvine began to make comments to his friends — Atencio and Blake Quinlan, who was 18 at the time — about killing his roommate. The teenagers frequently hung out at Brinson and Irvine’s home.
Atencio would later tell police she initially thought Irvine’s comments were jokes. He spoke about poisoning Brinson, or shooting him with his own gun and staging the scene to look like a suicide, according to an affidavit filed in the case. Then, in the weeks before the killing, Irvine, Quinlan and Atencio went to Home Depot and bought sheets of plastic, latex gloves and a hand saw.
Atencio and Quinlan covered the home’s basement in plastic from floor to ceiling a couple days before the killing. They later told police they were going to use the materials to set up a marijuana grow. But that never happened.
On Jan. 16, 2019, the two roommates argued again. When Brinson stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, Irvine told Quinlan to “do it,” according to an affidavit. Quinlan took Brinson’s gun, waited while Brinson used the bathroom, and then shot Brinson in the head when he emerged from the toilet. Brinson died immediately.
Irvine and Quinlan dragged Brinson’s body to the plastic-covered basement, where Quinlan said he chopped the body up with the hand saw.
Around 3 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2019, Quinlan called Atencio and told her “it happened,” she told investigators. He asked her to come help him clean up, and to bring trash bags. Atencio stopped by a Walmart in Westminster and purchased the “biggest, thickest” trash bags she could find, along with some drinks, and drove out to the home, according to an affidavit. There, she held the trash bags while Quinlan put other bags — full of Brinson’s body parts — into the bags she held. She helped to tie up the bags.
Later that day, Quinlan and Atencio drove out to an area south of Byers, east of Denver, and ditched the bags under a large pine tree. That night, the pair went to an Applebee’s restaurant and paid with Brinson’s credit card, court records show.
Later, Atencio grew concerned that Brinson’s head could be used to identify him. She returned to the dump site and removed Brinson’s head from the trash bags. She tried to pull out his teeth with pliers, and then ran over the head with her car before moving it alone to a new site about a half-mile away from the rest of Brinson’s body, court records show.
Brinson’s family reported him as missing a few days after the killing. On Feb. 7, 2019, Quinlan and Atencio were pulled over for a traffic stop in Texas. Quinlan gave the officer a fake identity and then drove away, leading police on a pursuit that ended when he crashed. Investigators later found Brinson’s blood and a pistol in the vehicle.
A Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office investigator interviewed Quinlan while he was in jail in Texas on April 3, 2019, and he confessed, claiming he acted alone, according to an affidavit.
“I did it, I killed Joe,” he said, according to an affidavit filed against him.
All three — Quinlan, Atencio and Irvine — eventually were arrested in connection with Brinson’s slaying. After significant delays because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Quinlan was convicted of first-degree murder at a jury trial in 2021 and sentenced to life in prison. Irvine pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2022 and was sentenced to 46 years in prison.
Atencio cooperated with authorities. She led investigators to Brinson’s head and testified against Quinlan during his jury trial as part of a plea agreement. She pleaded guilty to two felonies in 2020: being an accessory to a crime and conspiring to tamper with a body, and her sentencing was delayed until after she testified against the two men.
As part of the plea deal, she was sentenced in May 2022 to serve two years of work-release as well as six years of probation, court records show.
However, she went on to violate the terms of her work-release and probation, and this fall returned to court to be re-sentenced. Prosecutors with the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office requested she be sentenced to six years on each count to run consecutively, for a total of 12 years in prison, spokeswoman Brionna Boatright said.
Jefferson County District Court Judge Meegan Miloud instead sentenced Atencio to six years in prison on Sept. 8. Just weeks after the sentencing, prison officials alerted Brinson’s family that Atencio was coming up for parole.
Most prisoners in Colorado are eligible for parole after serving 50% of their sentence. Atencio had more than two years worth of pre-sentence confinement credit when she was sentenced in September, and that time served counted as part of her six-year sentence.
It’s common for defendants to receive credit for time served when they are sentenced, though the large amount of credit Atencio received is a bit out of the ordinary and reflects the two-year delay between her plea and her sentencing, Boatright said.
Because of that credit, Atencio is eligible for parole in April, just seven months after the re-sentencing.
The attorneys who represented Atencio did not return requests for comment.
Brinson’s relatives feel she should not be released from prison, and Boatright said the district attorney’s office shares their concern.
“For the family, it’s just been devastation all over again, every single time,” Frost said. “It just seems as if she is never punished for anything.”
She remembered Brinson as a “sweet, kind guy,” who enjoyed riding dirt bikes, hiking and music. He’d been having a rough time before he was killed, she said, in large part because his brother died about 18 months earlier.
She plans to speak against Atencio’s release on parole at the Jan. 17 hearing.
“She should definitely not be in public at all,” she said. “Someone who is capable of doing this, who has zero remorse — it’s not like she did this and then just broke down in tears and said, ‘I’m sorry, I was messed up on drugs and alcohol and I made a horrible decision.’ Nothing.”
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