One of four defendants in a 1995 double homicide entered a plea agreement Monday and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms without parole, to be followed by 25 years in confinement.
Richard Breedlove, 49, pleaded guilty to charges of murder, burglary and weapon's violations in the 1995, murder-for-hire slayings of Rhonda Warren, 28, and Timothy Hale, 23.
Mr. Breedlove offered to testify in the trials of the other three defendants in exchange for life sentences without parole, avoiding a death penalty trial that was set to begin today.
"I thank God first and foremost; he gave us the answer to our prayers," said Ms. Warren's mother, Myrtis Edison, as family members gathered outside the Augusta-Richmond County Law Enforcement Center courtroom after the sentencing. "She can be put to rest now. I can't tell you how much I miss my child. It doesn't bring her back."
The execution-style slayings remained unsolved for nearly three years. Then a witness came forward who said she was present when the killings were discussed and a handgun was given to one of the defendants, authorities said.
On the third anniversary of the slayings - Nov. 4, 1998 - an indictment was returned against Mr. Breedlove, David Arlen Bates, his son Keane A. Bates and Katherine M. Conway.
The group is accused of conspiring to kill Mr. Hale and Ms. Warren. David Bates also faces a charge of criminal solicitation for allegedly hiring Mr. Breedlove to kill Mr. Hale.
The contract was to have Mr. Hale killed, but Ms. Warren also was killed because she was with Mr. Hale at the time of the shooting, Richmond County sheriff's Chief Deputy Ronald Strength said at the time of the suspects' arrest.
According to the indictment, Mr. Hale was the target of a plot against his life, brewing for at least a week while David Bates worked out the details to hire Mr. Breedlove. Although the elder Mr. Bates was not present for the killings, he has been charged with murder. Two guns were used, but only Mr. Breedlove is said to have been the triggerman.
Because Mr. Breedlove was in a Florida jail awaiting trial on sexual battery and other charges, he wasn't arraigned on the Richmond County charges until November 1999, and the notice of prosecutors' intention to seek the death penalty against Mr. Breedlove, Keane Bates and Ms. Conway wasn't issued until May 2000.
Appearing before Richmond County Superior Court Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. on Monday, Mr. Breedlove was flanked by his defense attorneys, Jack E. Boone Jr. and George Bush, as the charges against him were read.
Mr. Breedlove, who had known some members of the Warren family, apologized to them. He said he did not know Ms. Warren was in the trailer when he went to kill Mr. Hale.
"I want to say I'm very sorry to both families," said an ashen-colored Mr. Breedlove, turning to face Ms. Warren's family in the courtroom. "I didn't know it was Rhonda. I guess I'll be in here for life, so there's no sense in worrying about it. Thank you for showing up."
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113, or email@example.com.