A Madison County man avoided the possibility of the death penalty Friday by pleading guilty to two counts of murder in the 2010 deaths of his mother and girlfriend.
As part of a plea agreement, John Payne, 39, would be sentenced to two life sentences. He also pleaded guilty to a felony theft, being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and being a persistent felony offender. The three 20-year sentences on those charges would be served concurrently with the life sentence.
Payne will not be eligible for parole for 25 years, said Commonwealth's Attorney David Smith. Had he been convicted at trial, Payne would have faced the possibility of execution.
Payne was accused of murder in the deaths of his mother, Cornelia Mullins, 55, and his girlfriend, Meredith King, 32. Their bodies were found at Mullins' house at 506 Hillsdale Avenue in Richmond on Dec. 4, 2010, but they were believed to have been shot on Nov. 30.
During a Friday hearing, Payne said he had argued with his mother after she refused to open a lock box. Payne said Mullins was "raising hell, cussing me out," and she then pulled a .38-caliber handgun on him. During a struggle, Payne grabbed the gun from her and then shot her once in the head.
Payne said his mother was still breathing and he began crying. "I watched her last breath," he said.
Later, Payne said in the hearing, he shot King after she repeatedly pleaded with him, "Baby, drop the gun."
The felony theft charge was in connection with stealing his mother's car and some personal property, Smith said.
In December 2011, Payne was indicted on a charge of second-degree escape from the Madison County Detention Center. He was also a registered sex offender who had been convicted in the rape of a 15-year-old.
Madison Circuit Judge Jean Chenault Logue scheduled final sentencing for March 20.
Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety