By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia man who killed five people earlier this year, including members of his family, will spend the rest of his life in prison after pleading guilty but mentally ill, authorities said Thursday.
Thomas Jesse Lee, 27, could have faced the death penalty but prosecutors accepted the guilty plea and life sentence without the possibility of parole, citing Lee's "significant prior mental health issues," District Attorney Peter Skandalakis said in a statement.
Police discovered the bodies of Lee's wife, her daughter by another marriage, her parents and a family friend on Jan. 30 in the in-law's home about 70 miles southwest of Atlanta, authorities said.
Four of the victims were shot and the fifth strangled, Caldwell said.
Lee was arrested Feb. 2 in Tupelo, Mississippi, while trying to board a bus to Alabama, police said.
Members of a Mississippi church purchased a bus ticket for Lee after he sought help there. But parishioners became suspicious after seeing news reports of the murders and their pastor alerted Tupelo police, police said.
Lee "styled himself as a lay preacher," Captain Mike Caldwell of the Troup County Sherif's Department told Reuters Thursday.
Lee was living with his in-laws and often out of work.
"There was tension in the house," Caldwell said. "The fact that he didn't contribute much to the home financially was a problem."
(Reporting by David Beasley; Editing by Karen Brooks and Bill Trott)