A Washington County man avoided a possible death sentence and will instead spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole for the fatal stabbing of an elderly woman last year, according to the terms of a guilty plea approved on Thursday.
Frank Jones Jr., 24, of Claysville, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, robbery, aggravated assault and theft in the Jan. 7 death of 80-year-old widow Opal Bedillion in her East Finley home.
Common Pleas Judge Katherine Emery sentenced Jones to life in prison, plus 10 to 20 years for robbery, the apparent motive in the killing.
Prosecutors had announced last year they would seek the death penalty against Jones because they believed the murder happened during the commission of the robbery. Jones' jury trial was set to start Monday.
Last week, however, assistant district attorney Michael Lucas said he got word from Jones' public defender, Tom Cooke, that he wanted to discuss a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty.
Last weekend, Mr. Lucas said he met with Bedillion's relatives, who approved of the agreement.
Mr. Lucas insisted on the first-degree murder plea, he said, because he felt Mr. Jones deliberately went to Bedillion's home to rob and possibly kill her.
"Mr. Jones went with the intent to rob the place," he said. "He went armed with a knife."
Judge Emery also ordered Jones to pay $10,000 to Bedillion's estate for her burial expenses and restitution to the state for the cost of laboratory fees. Her family attended the hearing, as did Jones', but they declined to give a victim impact statement or speak with reporters.
South Strabane police apprehended Jones during a traffic stop Jan. 7 and said they became suspicious when they saw several items, including jewelry and a bottle of prescription pain killers with Bedillion's name on it, in Jones' backseat.
Concerned, officers asked Bedillion's relatives to check on her. When her nephew walked into her home, he found her body. County Coroner Timothy Warco said she died of knife wounds.
After he was charged with her murder, Mr. Lucas said Jones gave state police a "full confession," telling them he killed the widow near her front door. Mr. Lucas said DNA and fingerprint evidence also pointed to Jones as the killer.
Jones told Judge Emery that he has been undergoing treatment for anger management and bipolar disorder, along with other mental health issues.
"I'm very sorry for what happened and I will take full responsibility for my actions," he told the judge in his only statement before sentencing.
Judge Emery said Bedillion's last moments must have been full of "pure fright."
"And your final days on Earth will be in a jail cell," she told Jones.
Although he was diagnosed with mental health problems as a young man, Jones declined to follow a recommended treatment program and instead turned to a life of drug use and crime, Judge Emery said, becoming addicted to heroin and cocaine. Court records indicate Jones had been arrested several times for various crimes.
"Your selfish and languid behavior has led you here," she said.
Janice Crompton: email@example.com or 412-851-1867.