Convicted murderer Tony King admitted Thursday to killing a fellow inmate in the Buchanan County Jail cell the two shared.
Initially, Mr. King pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Michael A. Bozarth in June.
"I'd had discussions with Mr. King's attorney, and today was the deadline date to make a decision," said Dwight Scroggins, prosecutor. "The game plan was to avoid further delay, but coming into court I didn't know what he'd do."
Second-degree murder carries a possible sentence of between 10 and 30 years or life in prison.
The prosecutor offered a deal — 20 years, with the defense arguing for a concurrent sentence and the state arguing for a consecutive sentence.
Mr. King, 29, told Judge Dan Kellogg that he knowingly strangled Mr. Bozarth, 25, while they were in the same cell pod.
"The autopsy confirmed manual strangulation," Mr. Scroggins said.
At the time, Mr. King was awaiting sentencing on a conviction of murdering his son.
Judge Randall Jackson sentenced Mr. King to life in prison, plus 15 years each for arson and child abuse, in the death of his 7-year-old son. The two 15-year sentences are to be served consecutively to the life without parole sentence.
Criminals have a right to appeal, and the first murder trial was handled by the Harrison County prosecutor and an assistant attorney general. In the unlikely event that an appeal is successful, a consecutive 20-year sentence in this case would insure Mr. King remains behind bars, Mr. Scroggins said.
The two inmates were sharing a cell in the Buchanan County Jail back in June. Mr. Bozarth died between 10:15 p.m. June 10 and 2:15 a.m. June 11. During that time, the two inmates were the only ones in the cell.
Mr. Bozarth pleaded guilty in January to third-degree assault and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. He had remained in custody on two charges, based on allegations that he sodomized two children under the age of 9, according to court documents.
Mr. Bozarth's mother and other family members have been attending every one of Mr. King's court appearances.
Mr. Kellogg ordered a background investigation and set Oct. 31 for sentencing.