CINCINNATI (AP) — In a move that would allow her to escape the death penalty, an Ohio woman pleaded guilty Wednesday in the gruesome killing of a woman found covered in burns and wailing in agony on the side of a rural road.
As part of a deal with prosecutors, 20-year-old Katrina Marie Culberson pleaded guilty to one count each of aggravated murder, kidnapping and aggravated arson.
Muskingum County Prosecutor Mike Haddox said that his office offered the agreement to Culberson in exchange for her guilty plea and on the condition that she testify against two others charged in the killing of 29-year-old Celeste Fronsman, of Akron.
On Aug. 26, a driver found Fronsman on a road northeast of Zanesville in eastern Ohio. She had been raped and burned and had a strap around her neck. She died two days later at a Columbus hospital.
Culberson's Columbus attorney, Jerry McHenry, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday. Culberson still faces life in prison when she is sentenced, although a date for her sentencing has not been set.
"She understood all the terms and conditions," Haddox said. "She entered into it knowingly and willingly."
Prosecutors can cancel the agreement if Culberson becomes uncooperative or unwilling to testify against LaFonse Darney Dixon and Monica Jean Washington, Haddox said.
Both Dixon and Washington have pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder, kidnapping and aggravated arson. They face a potential death sentence if convicted.
Haddox has repeatedly declined to discuss what authorities believe is the motive in the killing and whether there was a ringleader, saying it would be unethical for him to do so before trial and could compromise the prosecution.
Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz also has declined to discuss the motive. He did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
In a jailhouse interview with the Times Recorder in Zanesville this month, Culberson declined to discuss specifics but said she, Washington and Dixon "all had a part" in the killing.
"I want to be a human being again, not some monster," she said. "I want to ask God for forgiveness for everything I've ever done."
Dixon denied involvement in a separate interview with the newspaper.
Lutz has called Culberson's killing "one of the most gruesome things I've ever seen in 23 1/2 years in law enforcement."
The man who found Fronsman, who didn't want to be named to avoid the media spotlight, told the Times Recorder that Fronsman threw herself toward his vehicle in a scene that looked like "something out of a horror show."
He said that Fronsman was pleading for help and comfort and was burned from head to toe, with all her hair gone.
"I caught her and picked her up in my arms," he told the newspaper. "I told her I was going to lay her in the grass and knew then that God had put me there for her."
Court records show that Fronsman was involved in prostitution and was living a dangerous life before she was killed.
She had been arrested more than 20 times since 2003, mostly for domestic violence, cocaine possession and prostitution.
Fronsman's family has said the young woman was a good person with a good heart who was devastated by the death of her 2-year-old daughter in 2005 and her mother in 2009.
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