LOS ANGELES – James Butler, a boxer who fought under the nickname "The Harlem Hammer," pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and arson Monday in the 2004 death of a freelance sports writer.
Butler will be sentenced to 29 years, four months in prison by Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor on April 5, according to Deputy Public Defender Jack Keenan.
The 33-year-old fighter entered his plea as jury selection was set to begin in his trial for the killing of Sam Kellerman, who was the 29-year-old brother of boxing expert Max Kellerman, an ESPN Radio show host in New York.
"I think it's a fair resolution of the case," Keenan said. "He's always been sorry for what he did, and in the end he thought of Sam Kellerman as a friend."
Butler faced about 34 years in prison had he gone to trial and been convicted of murder, Keenan said. The original count of murder was dismissed against the former USBA super middleweight champion.
A motive for the killing has not been revealed by prosecutors, although it could come out at Butler's sentencing, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.
Kellerman's body was found in his Hollywood apartment on Oct. 17, 2004, although authorities believe he had been killed five days earlier. He had been bludgeoned around the head about 30 times while sitting at his desktop computer, police said. A hammer was found near Kellerman's body, his car was missing and his apartment was set on fire, police said.
Sam Kellerman was a freelance writer who covered pro boxing. He and Butler were friends and the boxer had been staying at Kellerman's apartment since late September, police said.
Butler has a pro record of 20-5-0, with 12 wins by knockout. He is best known for sucker-punching opponent Richard Grant in November 2001 after losing a charity bout in New York.
Butler has been in custody since his arrest three days after the Kellerman killing.