The leader of a Ku Klux Klan group pleaded guilty yesterday to killing a woman — an erratic recruit who a witness said yelled "I want out" the day after her initiation into the white supremacist group.
Raymond Foster, 49, was immediately sentenced to life in prison for second-degree murder by state District Judge Peter Garcia.
Cynthia Lynch, 43, a Klan recruit from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was shot and killed in November 2008, the day after initiation rites in rural St Tammany Parish, about 50 miles north of New Orleans.
Frankie Stafford, a former member of the Klan group, testified on Monday that Lynch cried tears of joy the night of her initiation but the next day angrily cursed Foster and yelled "I want out" before Foster shot her to death.
After entering his plea yesterday, Foster's voice was shaky as he apologized to Lynch's mother, Virginia Lynch, who was in the courtroom's front row. She had been present throughout jury selection and Stafford's testimony and wept at times as prosecutors outlined the crime.
"I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me," he said.
The plea came on the second day of what was often gruesome testimony. Defence lawyer Kevin Linder said he believes Foster decided to plead guilty so he could spare his friends, family and Virginia Lynch the ordeal of sitting through a full trial.
In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Joseph Oubre said there was some question whether Lynch knew what the Klan stood for. He noted that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, characterized by severe mood swings.
Stafford testified on Tuesday that he had planned to rejoin Foster's group, and gave a chilling account of Lynch's death. He said he helped cut down and burn bloodstained bushes at the scene but balked at helping dig a bullet out of her body.
Stafford is serving a four-year obstruction of justice sentence after pleading guilty to helping try to cover up the crime.
The killing happened just south of Washington Parish, a hotbed of Klan activity decades ago. St Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed said Foster's Klan group was small and secretive and its existence was an embarrassment to both parishes. Holding an evidence photo showing Foster, Lynch and others in Klan robes, he said, "I hope the result here will tell the world that this will not be tolerated in our community."