LIMA — A jury trial was averted Tuesday morning in Allen County Common Pleas Court when the defendant entered an 11th-hour plea of guilty to a charge of murder.
Leo Stapleton, 49, accepted a negotiated plea agreement from prosecutors that left in place the murder charge, an unclassified felony, and saw a burglary charge reduced from a second-degree felony to a felony of the third degree.
Stapleton faces up to life in prison when he’s sentenced Oct. 20.
At the recommendation of prosecutors, Judge David A. Cheney also ruled Stapleton to be a repeat violent offender, a ruling that could add up to 10 years to his sentence. Defense attorney Gregory Donohue reserved the right to further argue the RVO status at the sentencing hearing.
Stapleton was charged in the slaying of 40-year-old Kimberly Clark. Clark’s body was found inside her apartment at 118 S. Metcalf St. on Dec. 21. There were signs of foul play in the apartment that led police to label her death a homicide, authorities said shortly after Clark’s death.
Detective Steve Stechschulte of the Lima Police Department said he was surprised at Stapleton’s last-minute change of plea. “I was ready to go to trial,” the detective said Tuesday morning.
As he did in a similar murder case that culminated last week in a jury’s guilty verdict against Lima resident Ross McWay, Stechschulte said he had as evidence a video recorded confession by Stapleton that would have been played for jurors had the case gone to trial.
While there were similarities between the two cases, including the fact that victims in both cases died as the result of strangulation, the detective said Stapleton acted in “a sudden rage; in the heat of passion” when he elected to kill Clark on that December evening.
Jurors in the McWay case found the defendant had acted “with prior calculation and design” in causing the death of Lima resident Wendy Jeffers on Jan. 15.
Dozens of potential jurors waited for some two hours in the foyer outside the courtroom before being dismissed following Stapleton’s change of plea. The defendant was remanded to custody to await his October sentencing hearing.
Indiana prison records show Stapleton served sentences out of Fort Wayne, Indiana, for rape, resisting law enforcement, possession of paraphernalia, criminal recklessness, carrying a gun without a license and mischief. He spent the majority of the last 20 years locked up in prison, according to records.
Less than two months before her death, Clark and Stapleton were involved in an incident Nov. 2. Stapleton was charged with domestic violence and intoxication, but the case was dismissed when Clark failed to appear in court to pursue the case against Stapleton.
Stapleton lived in Lima nearly 20 years ago but left for Indiana two years ago, police officials said previously.
Reach J Swygart at 567-242-1447.