updated 5/30/2006 4:46:18 PM ET 2006-05-30T20:46:18

A man prosecutors say is a serial killer who burned half of his victims to ash and bone in his back yard pleaded guilty to killing eight women Tuesday under a deal that will send him to prison for life rather than to death row.

Larry Bright, 39, pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree murder and one count of drug-induced homicide in the deaths of women whose bodies were burned or dumped along little-traveled central Illinois roads during a 15-month killing spree in 2003 and 2004.

Under the deal with prosecutors, who had sought the death penalty, the former concrete worker also waived all appeal rights and will serve the entire life sentence in a maximum-security prison without the possibility of parole.

Bright said “Yes, Sir” and “No, Sir” in response to questions from the judge but otherwise did not address the courtroom.

But attorney Jeff Page read a statement from Bright: “I know I’ve committed some horrible and unthinkable acts. I am very sorry for the grief and heartache that I have caused.”

“I think it’s a fair resolution,” defense attorney Jay Elmore said outside court. “This guy is never going to see the light of day and he knows he should never see the light of day.”

Bright was charged in three of deaths before accepting the plea agreement. But prosecutors said he confessed to eight killings after he was arrested in late 2004 by a task force investigating the deaths and disappearances of black women who authorities say all led lives that included drugs and prostitution.

The plea agreement required Bright to publicly admit all eight killings, which prosecutors say provides closure for families of victims, especially the missing women. Authorities say DNA tests have been unable to identify charred pieces of bone recovered from about a half-dozen sites where investigators say Bright told them he dumped the women's remains.

Racially charged case
As the deal was being considered, Peoria County State’s Attorney Kevin Lyons said he consulted with victims’ families and Peoria’s black community because the case had led to racially charged criticism before Bright was arrested about a year and a half ago.

Black leaders alleged then that authorities were slow to launch an investigation into the deaths and disappearances because of the victims’ race and lifestyles. Many blacks also felt victimized because Bright is white, said Lyons, an outspoken critic when former Gov. George Ryan emptied Illinois’ death row during his last days in office in 2003.

Earlier this month, Peoria County Judge James Shadid told attorneys he would set a trial date and rule on a defense motion to move Bright’s trial if ongoing plea agreement talks failed to strike a deal by Tuesday.

Elmore called the deal a “no-brainer” for the defense.

“It saved the guy’s life. He confessed 47 times ... our chances of winning were nil,” Elmore said.

Bright tried to plead guilty during his first two court appearances last year, but to protect his rights judges rejected the attempts. Bright’s attorneys entered a not guilty plea and said his family persuaded him to fight for his life despite his remorse over the killings.

Authorities have declined to discuss a motive but say Bright developed a fascination with sex and pornography involving black women.

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