Bryan Brackbill Jr.
Bryan Brackbill Jr.

Bryan Brackbill Jr. insinuated himself into the life of Sandra Mulder, then used the woman's affection for him to alienate her from the people who loved her most, according to two family members.

Years later, when the 52-year-old Dillsburg-area woman finally stood up to the man known as "Big Country," he murdered her and stole her car.

Jurors took 80 minutes on Thursday morning to convict Brackbill, 34, of second-degree murder and theft.

Mulder's family and friends, who packed the prosecution side of Courtroom No. 5, briefly erupted in cheers and sobs of relief after the jury foreman read the verdict shortly before 11:30 a.m.

Sandra Mulder
Sandra Mulder

Life sentence: Jurors had the choice of convicting Brackbill of third-degree murder or manslaughter, but chose second-degree murder, which in Pennsylvania comes with an automatic life sentence and no possibility of parole.

Despite sentencing merely being a formality, York County judges almost always delay sentencing and ask the probation department to conduct a pre-sentence investigation.

But Brackbill was sentenced minutes after the verdict. His defense attorney, Rick Robinson, told the presiding judge that Brackbill didn't want to put it off.

Robinson later told The York Dispatch that Brackbill wants to be sent to state prison as soon as possible because the conditions are better there than at county prison.


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Prior to Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner imposing a life sentence, two of Mulder's family members spoke in court -- daughter Crystal Summers and brother Robert A. Smith.

'Took advantage': "The defendant took advantage of our mother in every possible way," Summers said. "He separated her from her family. He separated her from her friends."

Mulder was a good mom, a grandmother to five girls and a loving person, according to her daughter.

"She (was) such a kindhearted woman who would take anyone in," Summers said. "He completely changed her. ... When he came into her life, it just totally started going downhill."

Smith told the judge he had a heavy heart, and not just because his sister was murdered. Smith said his heart was heavy months before the slaying, over concerns of how Brackbill took over Mulder's life.

"He killed her long before her actual death," Smith said. "She took this guy in when nobody else would."

He said he spoke to his sister many times about his concerns, to no avail.

'Horrific crime': Chief deputy prosecutor David Sunday said he was thrilled the prosecution was able to get justice for "this absolutely horrific crime" and said he hopes the victim's loved ones will now be able to move on with their lives.

"There's nothing we can do to bring her back. We can't go back in time to fix what Bryan Brackbill broke," Sunday said.

"But we were able to hold him accountable for his actions and (protect) the community from anything he might do in the future."

Brackbill declined an opportunity to speak in court Thursday. Robinson said Brackbill will appeal.

The background: Brackbill lived in the basement of Mulder's home in the 200 block of Chestnut Grove Road in Carroll Township.

In the early-morning hours of June 1, 2013, he was angry because he'd been assaulted by his boss and thought his girlfriend -- who lived in Indiana -- was cheating on him, the prosecution told jurors.

Brackbill decided he was going to drive to Indiana to pick up the woman, but Mulder wouldn't give him her car, jurors determined.

He used duct tape to hog-tie her, Sunday has said. Mulder suffered from respiratory issues and died of positional asphyxia, trial testimony revealed.

-- Reach Liz Evans at levans@yorkdispatch.com.