NORFOLK, Va. – A sailor pleaded guilty Monday to abducting and killing a Marine corporal he thought had been involved in a gang rape.
The rape turned out to be a lie, but the truth surfaced too late.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Cooper Jackson, 23, pleaded guilty Monday to premeditated murder, kidnapping, impersonating a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent and obstruction of justice in connection with the death of Cpl. Justin L. Huff, 23.
In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to spare him a possible death sentence.
Federal agents had testified at his Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation, that Jackson had been fooled into falling in love with a woman who called herself Samantha and made up a story about being raped by servicemen.
"Samantha" turned out to be Ashley Elrod, a 22-year-old hotel clerk on North Carolina's Outer Banks, who testified that she lied about being raped. She said she "might have" told Jackson that one of the Marines was named Huff or Huffman, and she said Jackson called her after Huff was killed. Elrod has not been charged.
During his court-martial, Jackson told the Navy judge how he posed as an NCIS agent and took Huff to North Carolina to get information about the purported rape. He said he then slit Huff's throat and buried the body to avoid being caught.
"I'd broken several laws and I had a missing Marine with me," Jackson said at his hearing Monday. "Quite frankly, I was scared of the consequences of what would happen, of being caught, more so than I was of the consequences of taking his life."
If the judge accepts the plea, Jackson could be sentenced to life in prison with or without the possibility of parole, said his lawyer, Don Marcari. The sentencing phase was to begin Tuesday.
Huff, 23, of Indianapolis, was reported missing Jan. 2 after he didn't show up for class at the Navy and Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center in Virginia Beach, where Jackson also was a student.
Agents said Jackson, of Boones Mill, confessed when they questioned him Jan. 12. The next day, he led agents to Huff's body in a wooded area in Currituck County, N.C., just south of the Virginia-North Carolina border.