A convicted rapist admitted to a 1998 murder and was sentenced to a long prison term Monday as another man once blamed for the crime called him a coward who ruined lives.
Earl Mann, 35, avoided a trial and a possible death sentence in an agreement with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to the aggravated murder and rape of Judith Johnson and the attempted murder and two counts of rape of Johnson's granddaughter, then 6 years old.
The crucial DNA evidence against Mann was obtained when the wrongly convicted man, Johnson's son-in-law, snatched a cigarette butt from Mann when both were inmates at Mansfield Correctional Institution.
Clarence Elkins, 45, served nearly seven years of a life sentence. He was released in 2005 after helping to prove his innocence and later received $1 million from the state in a wrongful incarceration settlement.
Mann spoke little in court other than saying he understood the plea agreement. It will keep him in prison for at least 55 years after his present prison term for rape ends next year.
'Pain and devastation'
When family members spoke at the hearing, Mann sometimes frowned and glanced downward.
Johnson's daughter, Melinda Dawson, wept while saying, "You murdered my mother and tried to murder my niece. You caused this family nothing but pain and devastation."
Brian Pierce, one of Mann's attorneys, said Mann was concerned about Johnson's family and wanted to take responsibility for the crime.
Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said it's doubtful Mann will survive to his first possible parole hearing at age 91.
"Certainly we all feel horrible that the wrong person was initially found guilty by a jury for this crime," she said after the plea hearing. "We're thankful that justice was finally served and the real killer will spend the rest oh his life in prison."