Crime & Courts

Woman involved in Thunderbird Falls murder sentenced in related federal case

An Anchorage woman who pleaded guilty to a 2019 murder in a bizarre catfishing plot was sentenced on Monday to spend 25 more years in prison on separate but related child pornography charges.

Denali Brehmer, now 23, was sentenced last month to the maximum penalty — 99 years in prison — on state murder charges tied to 19-year-old Cynthia Hoffman’s death in 2019. She will serve the federal sentence at the same time.

Brehmer killed Hoffman at the direction of Indiana resident Darin Schilmiller, a man she met online who posed as a millionaire and offered her money in exchange for the killing, prosecutors have said. Schilmiller, now 25, was sentenced in January to 99 years in prison for soliciting Hoffman’s murder.

Brehmer recruited four of her friends to help pull off the murder and selected Hoffman as the victim, according to charges filed in the case. Hoffman was described by family as being developmentally delayed. She trusted Brehmer and called her a best friend, they said.

Investigators have said the teens brought Hoffman to Thunderbird Falls under the guise of a hike on June 2, 2019, but led her off the trail and bound her before shooting her and pushing her body into the Eklutna River. Brehmer sent Schilmiller photos and videos of the murder, prosecutors have said.

The federal case involves actions taken during the same time period as Hoffman’s death.

Schilmiller asked Brehmer to sexually assault a minor at some point between June 2 and June 4 in 2019, according to the federal indictment filed in the case. Brehmer sexually assaulted another teen she knew and sent Schilmiller photos and videos, the indictment said.


In July, Brehmer pleaded guilty to the federal charge of conspiracy to produce child pornography.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason sentenced her to 30 years, the maximum penalty for conspiracy to produce child pornography. Brehmer has already spent nearly five years in jail awaiting trial, and so was sentenced to serve an additional 303 months or 25 1/4 years. She will be on probation for the rest of her life if released.

Brehmer apologized to the victims during Monday’s hearing and said she wants to work to better her life. She requested to be placed in a federal prison in Minnesota.

Timothy Hoffman, Cynthia Hoffman’s father, spoke during the hearing about his daughter and how deeply her death has affected him and his family.

Schilmiller also pleaded guilty to the federal child pornography charge in July, but has not yet been sentenced.

Court proceedings are ongoing for two other teens charged in the murder plot: Kayden McIntosh, described in charges as the gunman who shot Hoffman, is awaiting trial; and Caleb Leyland is scheduled for sentencing in June for his involvement. The other two teens were prosecuted in the juvenile justice system and their cases are therefore confidential.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Contact her at