updated 9/22/2004 4:56:34 PM ET 2004-09-22T20:56:34

A man accused of killing two of his daughter’s friends and hiding their bodies in his back yard pleaded guilty Wednesday to murder charges and received two life sentences.

Ward Weaver, 41, avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty in the 2002 deaths of the girls, classmates and friends who disappeared within two months of each other.

Speaking in a hoarse whisper, hunched over and looking mainly down, Weaver told the judge he had come to court on “medications” but agreed that the plea agreement was a product of his “own free will.” It was not clear what the medications were for.

Weaver, whose rental home was just steps from the school bus stop where Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis were last seen, quickly became a focus of the investigation. He responded by inviting television crews into his home to film him proclaiming his innocence, giving interviews on top of the concrete slab in his back yard under which investigators later found the body of 12-year-old Ashley.

During the sentencing, Judge Robert Herndon told Weaver, “I hope there is a special place in hell for people like you.”

Weaver was arrested in August 2002 after his son’s girlfriend ran from his home, naked except for a tarp, screaming that he had tried to rape her.

After that arrest, FBI investigators cordoned off his back yard and searched for the girls’ bodies. They found Ashley’s in a barrel under the concrete slab. The body of 13-year-old Miranda was in a box in Weaver’s tool shed.

The mothers of the two girls wept in court Wednesday as Weaver made his plea.

“I know I have the memory of my daughter for the rest of my life. That cannot ever be taken away,” said Lori Pond, Ashley’s mother. “I just know that I am going to live, continue on.”

Weaver’s father, also named Ward Weaver, is on death row in California after he was convicted of killing a woman and burying her body in his back yard beneath concrete.

Prosecutor John Foote told reporters that Weaver’s lawyers had approached his office with the offer for a plea deal after the judge denied their request to change the venue of the trial.

Weaver’s lawyers said their client decided to seek the plea deal after getting a letter from his daughter, begging him to bring the matter to a close.

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