CHARLESTON (AP) - A Charleston man pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder in one of three sniper-style slayings that rattled Kanawha County in 2003.
Shawn Lester was scheduled to stand trial Monday in all three slayings. His plea agreement with prosecutors came as potential jurors were arriving at Kanawha County Circuit Court, media outlets reported.
Prosecutors recommended a 30-year sentence for Lester, who faces 10 to 40 years in prison. Sentencing was set for Aug. 31.
Family members of the victims listen as a plea agreement is reached in the Shawn Lester sniper trial in Kanawha County Circuit Court on Monday.
Lester was indicted in August 2011, eight years after the fatal shootings.
On Monday Lester pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Jeanne Patton. Kanawha County Assistant Prosecutor Don Morris said most of the state's evidence against Lester was linked to Patton's slaying.
In exchange for the plea, first-degree murder charges were dropped against Lester in the deaths of Patton, Okey Meadows Jr. and Gary Carrier Jr.
Patton, 31, and Meadows, 26, were shot on Aug. 14, 2003, within 90 minutes of each other at convenience stores about 10 miles apart. Meadows had been buying milk at a pay window in Cedar Grove, while Patton was filling her car with gas in Campbells Creek, both southeast of Charleston.
Carrier, 44, had been killed four days earlier while talking on a pay phone outside a Charleston Go-Mart store.
Each was shot in the neck and head.
The shootings initially appeared random and came close on the heels of similar sniper-style shootings in the Washington, D.C., area. Prosecutors later said they were drug-related.
Lester had denied the charges in a jailhouse interview.
A day after the interview aired Wednesday, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom issued a gag order prohibiting everyone associated with the case from discussing it with the media.
On July 10, a federal grand jury indicted Lester on an unrelated charge of conspiring to distribute oxycodone and cocaine from 2005 to March 30, 2011. He pleaded guilty in January to an unrelated weapons charge.