Vernon Lee Clark, who is serving two life terms for murder, pleaded guilty in Howard County Circuit Court yesterday to killing an elderly Elkridge woman two decades ago.
Judge Lenore R. Gelfman sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole, to be served concurrently with the other sentences.
Clark, 45, who used to live in Elkridge and is in the Maryland House of Corrections Annex in Jessup, fatally stabbed 70-year-old Rebecca H. "Dolly" Davis in 1980. He had done yard work for her several years before, according to police.
A week after she disappeared, police found her partially clothed body hidden near her Lawyers Hill Road home. Davis had been sexually assaulted, police said.
DNA evidence on the body was too small to test at the time - smaller than a pen point, investigators said. Years later, after technology had improved, police matched the sample to Clark's DNA. They charged him in 1999.
The DNA evidence also linked him to the fatal beating in 1981 of Catonsville resident Evelyn Dieterich, 68. He was sentenced to a life term in September for that murder.
Clark was in prison serving a life sentence for the killing of Elkridge resident Kathleen Gouldlin, 23, who was shot and sexually assaulted in 1989.
Howard County police also consider him a suspect in another unsolved homicide: the fatal beating of Iva Myrtle Watson, 81, who was killed in 1984 in Ellicott City.
Standing with his head down during the proceedings yesterday, Clark often was barely audible when questioned by his attorney and Gelfman. He declined to give a statement to the court.
But Dolly Davis' nephew, James Davis, gave a short, emotion-filled speech in which he thanked police "who never gave up" on the long-unsolved case.
"We never really get over a horrible crime such as this - at least, I don't," said James Davis, who lives in the house his aunt had owned. "... And yet, when justice is done, we do feel the right thing has taken place."
Afterward, he said the sentence was as close to "justice" as he could expect. "I don't know what would be appropriate, really," he said. "You take what you can get."
Under an agreement between prosecutors and the defense attorney, Clark pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, and prosecutors dropped the other charges of first-degree sex offense and perverted sex practices.
Jim Dietrich, an assistant state's attorney, said the long wait between the crime and the charges made a plea bargain the best option.
"Under the circumstances ... we are pleased," he said. "It brought closure to this case."