BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A man convicted of fatally shooting his mother and stepfather will continue to serve life in prison, but he must return to Kern County due to an error made at sentencing, an appellate court has ruled.

A jury in 2020 convicted Derek Connell of first-degree murder for killing his stepfather, Chris Higginbotham, and second-degree murder in the death of his mother, Kim Higginbotham. Their bodies were found in their northwest Bakersfield home, where Connell also lived.

At sentencing, Judge John R. Brownlee incorrectly applied a life-without-parole term to the second-degree murder conviction instead of the first-degree murder conviction, according to a ruling published last month by the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

“The trial court’s apparent belief it could impose a life-without-parole sentence for second-degree murder . . . because the jury found true the multiple-murder special-circumstance allegation was mistaken,” according to the appellate opinion. “A special circumstances finding elevates the punishment only for a conviction of first-degree murder.”

The appellate court vacated the sentences, ordering Connell transported to Bakersfield for another sentencing hearing, where he faces a maximum of life without parole plus 65 years to life. The hearing had not been scheduled as of Monday.

Connell, 35, is currently serving life without parole plus 75 years to life.

Early April 30, 2016, police responded to a house on Lily Pad Court in northwest Bakersfield after receiving a frantic call from a relative of Connell’s in Scotland. The relative said Connell had contacted her on FaceTime and showed her video of the bodies of the Higginbothams.

Officers entered and found the body of Chris Higginbotham lying in a pool of blood. He had been shot three times — in the neck, chest and shoulder. A mixture of blood and bleach surrounded him.

Kim Higginbotham, a teacher with the Delano Union School District, was found dead in another part of the house with a gunshot wound to her chest.

Prosecutors said Connell attempted to clean up the crime scene and was backing out of the garage in an SUV when police arrived.

According to court documents, Connell, an Iraq War veteran, told investigators he drank heavily that day. He said he spoke with his stepfather before going to bed, and the next thing he remembered was finding their bodies.

“I had to have done it,” he told investigators. “There was no one else in the house.”

At trial, defense lawyer Paul Cadman argued Connell shot his stepfather after the other man killed his mother.

Connell took the stand and testified Chris Higginbotham had sexually abused him for years. On the day of the killings, Connell said, he finally told his mother about the abuse.

She confronted his stepfather, who killed her as they argued, Connell said.

He testified he then shot and killed Chris Higginbotham.

Prosecutor Marcus Cuper told the jury Connell’s account was another lie to add to several the defendant had already admitted telling investigators. Cuper said the motive behind the killings remained unknown.