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Virginia man gets five life terms for killing 8 in 2010

Christopher Speight arrives in Appomattox (Va.) County Circuit Court on Friday.
Christopher Speight arrives in Appomattox (Va.) County Circuit Court on Friday.Jill Nance / The News & Advance Pool via AP

APPOMATTOX, Va. -- A man accused of killing eight people at his rural central Virginia home and shooting at a state police helicopter pleaded guilty Friday to several murder and other charges and was sentenced to five life prison terms.

Christopher Speight, 42, pleaded guilty to three counts of capital murder, one count of attempted capital murder of a police officer and five firearms counts.

The former security guard was arrested on Jan. 20, 2010, after an overnight manhunt near the Appomattox home he shared with his sister, her husband and their two children. Those family members, two neighbors, their teenage daughter and a teenage boy were killed in the shootings.

Kim Scruggs, whose son was among the victims, wept as she scolded Speight.

"Christopher Speight, you look at me! You were a coward up there that day when you shot my son in the back, running for his life," she said. After a long pause to gather her composure, she added, "May God have mercy on your soul."

Steve Canard of Lynchburg, whose sister Karen Quarles was among the victims, brought pictures of his sister, her husband and niece, who also was killed, into court. He told the Associated Press that he wanted to "make sure he remembers the faces of the people he killed."

Speight surrendered at daybreak after the manhunt in the woods. He was unarmed and wearing a bulletproof vest.

According to court records, investigators later seized 42 homemade explosive devices and fuses, multiple rounds of ammunition, several assault rifles and a 9mm pistol from Speight's home.

Family members and others who knew Speight said at the time that he had a history of mental problems and had been obsessed with the mistaken notion that his sister, Lauralee Sipe, was plotting to kick him out of the house on 34 acres that they inherited after their mother's death in 2006.

Five months after the shootings, a judge sent Speight to a state mental hospital for treatment after a psychologist found the defendant was too mentally ill to assist his lawyers or stand trial. The case remained on hold for years as attorneys dealt with pretrial motions and awaited additional mental evaluations.

The shooting victims included Speight's sister and her husband, Dwayne Sipe, both 38, and their 4-year-old son Joshua. Also killed were Morgan Dobyns, Lauralee Sipe's 15-year-old daughter from a previous marriage; Morgan's friend Emily Quarles, 15; Emily's boyfriend Ronald "Bo" Scruggs, 16, and her parents, Karen and Jonathan Quarles, both 43.

Two years after the shootings, officials said for the first time that they believed Speight killed the three Sipes two days before fatally shooting the other five.

Speight also was charged with firing at a state police helicopter, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing.