A Richmond County jury had been selected to hear the case against 59-year-old William Widener, but he agreed to a plea negotiation.
Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. accepted the agreement, which called for Mr. Widener to plead guilty to two counts of aggravated child molestation and receive the life sentence.
In sentencing Mr. Widener the judge called him a contemptible, evil man.
Lead investigator Thelma Gilchrist, who has worked on child abuse cases for at least 18 years, said the children were abused for several years.
"This is the most horrific case I've ever worked," Investigator Gilchrist said. "This had been going on for five or six years. It didn't just start."
Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey Fogus said Mr. Widener faced 19 counts that were each punishable by a life sentence. He agreed to the plea negotiation in return for Mr. Widener's acceptance of responsibility and to spare the children from testifying.
On Jan. 17, 2008, a mother of five called the sheriff's department after the children told her of seeing Mr. Widener naked, Mr. Fogus said.
In forensic interviews with child specialists, the children described sexual contact with Mr. Widener that included aggravated sodomy with a 6-year-old boy and 7-year-old girl, Mr. Fogus said.
In 1991, Mr. Widener was convicted of child molestation in Richmond County Superior Court and sentenced to five years in prison followed by five years' probation.
In that case he admitted to fondling an 11-year-old boy, Mr. Fogus said.
Mr. Widener, who made no statement Tuesday, will be eligible for parole.
Currently the parole board does not consider parole until 30 years have been served on a life sentence.
Staff Writer Adam Folk contributed to this story.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.