BEDFORD, Va. (AP) — A convicted sex offender accused in the 1975 murders of two young sisters who disappeared from a Maryland shopping mall is expected to plead guilty to the crime that has haunted the region for more than four decades.
Lloyd Lee Welch Jr., 60, was scheduled to stand trial Tuesday in the killings of 12-year-old Sheila Lyon and 10-year-old Katherine Lyon.
Online court records in Bedford County, Virginia, indicate the trial has been "withdrawn" and a plea hearing is scheduled instead for the same date.
The Washington Post, citing multiple officials familiar with plea negotiations, reported Thursday that Welch plans to plead guilty. The Post didn't identify the officials.
Prosecutors and Welch's attorneys declined to comment, citing a gag order that Circuit Judge James Updike issued in the case.
The Lyon sisters disappeared March 25, 1975, after walking from their home in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., to Wheaton Plaza to have pizza with friends during a school vacation.
Cold-case detectives took a fresh look at Welch beginning in 2013 after finding a sketch in the case file of a man who resembled a 1977 mug shot of Welch.
Welch, a former carnival worker, was charged two years ago in the killings. He was already in prison in Delaware, having pleaded guilty in 1998 to molesting a 10-year-old girl.
If convicted at trial in Bedford of two counts of first-degree felony murder during "the commission of abduction with the intent to defile," he faced the possibility of the death penalty.
Welch was prosecuted in Bedford because authorities believe he dumped the girls' bodies there, on a remote mountain where his family owned land. But without recovering the girls' bodies, prosecutors may have had a difficult time proving their case at a trial.
In interviews with police beginning in 2013, Welch acknowledged he was at the mall the day the girls disappeared, and said he believed they'd been "abducted, raped and burned up," according to court documents.
Any plea deal would not be final until Welch appears before a judge and agrees to the terms. The deal would also need the judge's approval.
The Post reported that the plea agreement also would resolve two unrelated sexual assault cases in Prince William County in northern Virginia. In 2016, Welch was indicted there in the rape of a 6-year-old girl in 1996. Earlier this year, he was indicted for allegedly sexually abusing another girl about the same time.