MECHANICSBURG, Ohio — A man accused of stabbing his on-again, off-again girlfriend, suffocating her and dismembering her body told a newspaper that she begged him to kill her after he confronted her about text messages she'd sent saying she wanted him dead.
In the jailhouse interview with the Dayton Daily News, a choked-up Matthew Puccio also said Jessica Sacco told him she still loves him, said she's sorry and asked for a last kiss before allowing him to suffocate her in the duplex apartment they shared in Urbana, in western Ohio. He told the newspaper he plans to plead guilty and deserves the death penalty.
Remains of Sacco, 21, were found in their bathtub on March 30, eight days after authorities believe she died.
Puccio is charged in Champaign County court with murder and other crimes. Four other people, including a couple from Fenton, Mich., who were staying at the apartment, are accused of helping him cover up the killing. Police have said parts of her body were found in southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky, about 70 to 85 miles away.
In a portion of the interview aired on WHIO-TV, Puccio paused often to compose himself as he described an ordeal that started about three days after a mutual friend sent him text messages in which Sacco asks for one good reason why he should live and why she should stay with him.
"It went on to say how she was going to invite one of her friends over to cut my heart out of my chest and leave me for dead," he said, wearing orange-and white striped jailhouse garb, his hands cuffed, at the Tri-County Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg.
He said she "started freaking out" and eventually stabbed herself with a folding pocket knife.
"She was pleading with me to slash her throat, slash her wrists, do something, and I told her, `No I can't do that to you.' And she told me to stab her then, so I just held my hand above her stomach, she grabbed my wrist and pulled it into her stomach, and I pulled out the knife and wrapped her stomach and tried to stop the bleeding as much as I could," he said.
The couple living next to Sacco and Puccio in the duplex isn't buying his explanation.
Aaron Gall, 25, told The Associated Press that he believes Puccio is "just trying to get people to feel sorry for him," and that Sacco wouldn't have wanted to die.
"She loved life. She was so vibrant before he started living there," he said.
"She went from being this vibrant girl, to basically angry all the time and highly upset. It's like the devil moved in with her and pulled out all the lights."
Gall said he and his fiancÚe, Kristin Shultz, 22, also discount a theory they saw in a television report that Puccio acted in self-defense after finding out Sacco wanted him dead.
"We looked at each other and said: `He's lying. He's lying through his teeth,'" Gall said.
He called Puccio "rude and off-putting" and said he argued with Sacco almost daily after Christmas. He never heard it turn physical.
"The walls were paper thin," he said. "We heard verbal arguments on the other side of the wall all the time."
Puccio said he and Sacco, who had lived in California in recent years, had been together for about a year and a half. He said the relationship had started going sour about two months ago when she started dealing with witchcraft and he didn't want any part of it but had nowhere else to live.
He said the plastic bag he used to kill her came into the picture about six to seven hours after she was stabbed and after he held her for a while. He said she eventually asked him to "just let her die already."
"She started crying and told me `I wish I didn't have to die, but I understand what I did,'" he said.
Champaign County Coroner Joshua Richards has said Sacco's autopsy revealed that the woman's single stab wound did not hit any vital organs and probably caused little bleeding. He said she died of suffocation.
A jail administrator said Puccio has declined further interview requests. A telephone message seeking comment was left Thursday for his attorney.
Shultz, the neighbor, had seen Sacco the day before she was killed.
"It was the first time she had said hi to me in the longest time," she said. "She actually looked a little happy. I think she told him to get out. She had some relief on her shoulders. It looked like she was getting her old self back."
She and Gall now plan to move.
"It's just too hard to think of everything," Shultz said. "We just can't be in that house."
Information from: Dayton Daily News, http://www.daytondailynews.com