OKEMAH, Okla. (AP) — A man accused of killing two girls along a rural Oklahoma road in 2008, but who wasn't arrested until after being questioned in his fiancée's death three years later, pleaded guilty in both cases Thursday.
Kevin Sweat, 28, entered guilty pleas to three counts of first-degree murder in Okfuskee County District Court. Prosecutors dropped plans to seek the death penalty after Sweat agreed to waive his right to a jury trial. A bench trial was scheduled to begin on Monday.
The girls — 11-year-old Skyla Whitaker and 13-year-old Taylor Paschal-Placker — were fatally shot as they walked down a road near Weleetka in rural eastern Oklahoma. But the case quickly went cold after their bullet-riddled bodies were found not far from where Taylor lived with her grandfather.
Sweat was not suspected in their deaths until police questioned him in the 2011 slaying of his fiancee, 23-year-old Ashley Taylor. Prosecutors said Sweat told an investigator during a videotaped interview that he shot the two girls because he thought they were "monsters" coming at him.
Sweat was barely audible during Thursday's hearing as he responded to questions from the judge, who read a statement he signed acknowledging that the statements he made during the taped interview were accurate.
"We're finally going to get this off of our shoulders," said Ashley Taylor's mother, Faye Taylor. Her father, Michael Taylor, added that the acknowledgement of guilt was "a big part of the healing process."
"It's a big relief knowing this is happening. You doubt it's ever going to happen," he said.
Peter Placker, the grandfather of Taylor Paschal-Placker, said he "finally knows for sure" that Sweat was responsible for the deaths. But he noted: "It's not over until he's sentenced."
A sentencing hearing has not been set, but Sweat faces life without prison either with or without parole.
Sweat's attorneys had argued that Sweat was not mentally competent when he waived his Miranda rights before participating in the videotaped interview. But a judge agreed this year to allow prosecutors to use the video as evidence. The video had been played at previous hearings.
In the video, Sweat first tells Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent Kurt Titsworth he had nothing to do with the girls' deaths, saying "there would be no point to shooting kids."
But Sweat eventually said he shot what he said were "the demons" who approached him along a rural road where the girls' bullet-riddled bodies were found.
"I see demons, vampires ... monsters, demons, whatever. I do have some problems," Sweat said. "I was scared. ... They were still coming at me, so I shot them."
Taylor, his fianceé, went missing in July 2011 after telling her parents she was eloping with Sweat. Investigators have said that Sweat claimed he and Taylor argued and she got out of the car after the pair left Okmulgee to be married.
An investigator's report from 2011 said Sweat admitted cutting Taylor's throat and that police had found human remains in an ash pile on Sweat's father's property, along with prescription eyeglasses "consistent" with a pair belonging to Taylor.
The cases were ultimately connected after officers investigating her death found shell casings on Sweat's father's property that had markings that matched those found at the scene of the girls' 2008 slayings.
Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report from New York.
Clarification: In a July 31 story about a man pleading guilty to first-degree murder in the 2008 deaths of two girls and the 2011 death of his fiancee, Ashley Taylor, The Associated Press identified Faye Taylor as Ashley Taylor's mother. Faye Taylor says she raised Ashley since Ashley was a young girl. Ashley's birth mother is named Patricia Taylor.