Randolph Alan Gaul, whose attorney had maintained he wrongly confessed to the slaying of 13-year-old Kathy Murphy of West Hyattsville, pleaded guilty in the case yesterday in Prince George's County Court.
Gaul, 32, was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with half that time suspended, by Judge Jacob S. Levin after pleading quilty to second-degree murder and telling the judge he "believed" he killed the girl. Second-degree murder is murder without premediation.
James E. Kenkel, Gaul's attorney, said he advised his client to enter the plea Monday night after Judge Levin ordered prosecutors to turn over to Kenkel their evidence in the case. That evidence -- which included confessions by three other persons and a photo of Gaul that was identified by at least one person who had been in the Sligo Creek area, where the girl was killed, at the time of the crime -- "pretty much eliminated the danger" that Gaul had confessed to a murder he did not commit, Kenkel said.
"Rather than go forward and challenge" the prosecution's evidence, "I thought we'd plea," Kenkel said. "He [Gaul] might have been convicted of worse. This way we eliminated first-degree murder [which carries a maximum life sentence] and 15 years of second." Kenkel said the judge agreed to suspend 15 years of the maximum 30-year sentence for second-degree murder if Gaul pleaded guilty.
Until yesterday, Kenkel maintained that details in Gaul's confession had appeared in press accounts of the crime, adn that some facts provided by Gaul contradicted what police knew about the Aug. 23, 1978, slaying.
Crime scene photographs, according to one source, showed that Kathy Murphy's clothes were not piled neatly by the creek, as Gaul's confession had maintained. Some of the clothes were in the creek, others were strewn about.
Gaul was charged with murdering the girl last June after he gave a signed 12-page statement to detectives describing his emotions just prior to meeting Murphy. In the statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, Gaul wrote that he was emotionally "devastated" when he met her on the day of her death because he had just learned that his girlfriend was romantically involved with another man.
"Emotionally I was regressing ever towards more primitive forms of my mature self," he wrote. "Horrors were building. My universe was on fire. I was becoming dangerous. . . All I can say for certain is that Kathy Murphy is and was the one which elicited the emotional response -- There was never any doubt."
After Gaul signed the statement, he told police who questioned him he met Murphy while she was walking along Sligo Creek. The two took off their clothes, Gaul said, and then he folder her clothes neatly.
"Did you kill Kathy Murphy?" a detective asked Gaul.
"Are you telling me the truth?"
"As best as I remember it."