updated 3/20/2009 2:50:55 PM ET 2009-03-20T18:50:55

A man pleaded guilty Friday to first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of three people at a southwest Missouri church in a deal that will allow him to avoid the death penalty.

Eiken Elam Saimon pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and four counts of first-degree assault in attack at First Congregational Church in the town of Neosho . Three people died and four were wounded.

Saimon also pleaded guilty to charges of statutory rape and statutory sodomy for a sexual assault on a 14-year-old girl two days before the Aug. 12, 2007, shootings.

Under the deal with prosecutors, Saimon received three life sentences without parole, plus four 30-year sentences for the assaults and two seven-year sentences for the sex offenses.

Saimon was not an active member of the Micronesian church, police said. The Micronesian congregation rents the church and the service is held in their language.

The shootings had shocked the Micronesian community, known for valuing family and friends above all.

During the 1990s, thousands of Micronesians immigrated to southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas, drawn by plentiful jobs in the poultry and manufacturing industries.

Micronesians can live and work in the United States without getting visas because of their home countries’ unique relationship with the United States. 

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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