ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A man who beat a nun over the head with a flashlight and then strangled her to quiet her moans pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in federal court Friday under a deal that saved him a possible mandatory life sentence.
Reehahlio Carroll faces 40 years in prison without parole in the 2009 killing of Sister Marguerite Bartz, 64, who interrupted a burglary at her home on the St. Berard Mission in the community of Navajo on the Navajo Indian Reservation in northwestern New Mexico.
U.S. District Judge William Johnson accepted the plea but formal sentencing still needs to be scheduled. Carroll faced a mandatory life term if convicted of the original charges that included first-degree murder.
Prosecutors said Carroll, who just turned 21, confessed to breaking into the nun's trailer home around midnight Nov. 1, 2009, in search of money and items that could be traded for cash or drugs and alcohol. He attacked Bartz with a flashlight her after she hit him with a slipper as he entered a bedroom, hitting her over the head five or six times and kicking her as she lay on the ground, he acknowledged in court on Friday. He then resumed rummaging through the trailer, going back to tie a shirt around her mouth and neck after she began moaning.
Bartz, a member of the Order of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, was found in a pool of blood late that evening after she didn't show up for Mass.
Carroll was arrested a few days later after law enforcement learned he had been seen driving her car.
Carroll wore shackles and jail garb in court Friday. His head hanging low, he got emotional as he acknowledged the brutal details of the crime.
After the hearing, U.S. Attorney Ken Gonzales noted the "tragic irony" of Bartz falling victim to the high rate of violence on the reservation, saying she "was a woman who dedicated her life to bringing peace and harmony to the Navajo Nation."
Prosecutor Paul Spiers said the nun's family and fellow sisters agreed to the plea agreement during a March 12 meeting that focused on "forgiveness, redemption and rehabilitation."
"The people who loved her most saw comfort in this resolution," Spiers said.
An initial review from a neurologist concluded that Carroll, who is also from Navajo, likely had mild to moderate mental disability. However, a judge nearly two years ago found him competent to stand trial.