Surprise guilty plea in Des Moines murders



Posted on November 17, 2009 at 1:34 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 17 at 7:48 PM

SEATTLE – On the first day of his trial, Leemah Carneh pleaded guilty Tuesday to four counts of aggravated murder for the March 9, 2001 killings of a couple and two teens in Des Moines, Wash.

Carneh, 28, was immediately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Carneh was preparing to go to trial for the murders of Richard and Jane Larson, their 17-year-old grandson Taelor Marks and Marks' 17-year-old girlfriend, Josie Peterson. In court, he asked to plea bargain and entered the guilty pleas.

"There is no simple way to express the impact that the murders have had on my soul," said Lorraine Floyd in court. She is Jane and Richard's daughter and Taelor's mother. "My mom, Jane, was my best friend and my biggest champion."

Prosecutors say Carneh had an obsession with Peterson. But he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was considered mentally unfit to stand trial.

For years, the case moved in and out of court until, in July, a judge ruled Carneh was competent to stand trial.

"It has been cruel and unfair that I have had to sit silently for eight years, seven months and seven days and be a spectator to the games that have been played in this case," said Floyd.

But during Tuesday's proceeding, Carneh's lawyer continued to argue that his client was not competent.

"But for his mental illness, your honor, this never would have happened. He never would have committed this offense," said attorney Louis Frantz. "I believe he is still incompetent, your honor. I don't believe his that his circumstance his mental condition has changed."

When the prosecutor asked Carneh if he understood that he would spend the rest of his life in prison and die there, he said yes.

Relatives of the murder victims are still in shock over the outcome.

"I'm kind of numb right now,"said Mary Marrero, Peterson's mother. "Maybe on down the line, I can accept it, but right at this moment, I can't. I still can't. I still can't believe it's happening."