A former Annapolis man pleaded guilty yesterday to first-degree murder in the 1996 killing of his one-time girlfriend.
James S. Johnson, 33, entered the plea in exchange for prosecutors' dropping a request for a sentence of life without parole, and he agreed not to return to court to ask that his sentence be shortened.
Johnson told Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Philip T. Caroom that he understood that when sentenced Jan. 26, he could receive a life sentence.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced several years ago that he would not parole inmates serving life terms for violent crimes. State appeals courts have said that as long as each prisoner's bid for parole gets serious consideration, that policy is valid.
Johnson admitted killing Desiree Chavis, 27, whose body was pulled from Spa Creek in Annapolis on July 11, 1996, by two boaters. A medical examiner ruled that the cause of death was asphyxiation.
Chavis had been gagged with a sock, her throat was slit, she had bruises from a severe beating, and several fingers were nearly sliced off, said Kathleen Evans, the assistant state's attorney.
Johnson left the body in the woods of Truxton Park, where the killing took place, then returned to anchor the body with a rock and dump it into the creek, she said.
Another woman told police she saw and heard part of the attack. Her reliability was questioned by the defense because she might have been high on crack cocaine and alcohol.
"Obviously, there was a great deal of evidence," said Timothy Murnane, Johnson's lawyer, noting that Johnson's brother and sister would have been called to testify against him at a trial.
Johnson's motive for killing Chavis, who was killed the day before she was to enter a drug rehabilitation program, was unclear. She had a turbulent relationship with Johnson, but whether it was going on at the time of her death was not known, and he was believed to have been living with another woman, investigators said.
They said Chavis had brought assault charges against Johnson and his sister, and a conviction probably would have sent Johnson, who had a prior drug conviction, to prison.