A Sterling minister who allegedly plotted with an ex-congregant to kill each other's wives has sent a letter to a judge saying he will plead guilty and "throw myself upon the mercy of your court."

James E. Ogle, former pastor of the defunct Bull Run Bible Fellowship in Manassas, said in the letter to Prince William Circuit Court that he will change his plea from not guilty to guilty on charges of attempted capital murder and solicitation to commit a felony. The maximum sentence is life in prison for the murder charge and 10 years for solicitation.

Ogle, 46, who has been held without bond since his arrest Feb. 28, sent the five-page, tidily printed letter to Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. and mailed a copy to The Washington Post.

In a telephone interview from jail yesterday, Ogle said that if pleading guilty results in spending the rest of his life in prison, "the Scriptures say that there is a reward for that . . . in heaven."

"It's not an easy decision to make, but it's a sacrifice that I, as the father and the head of the family, must do," said Ogle. "The Bible is very clear to say that if a brother has taken you to court, that it's far better to just accept the wrongdoing."

Ogle's court-appointed attorney, William J. Baker, confirmed that his client had sent the letter to Millette, who sealed it and placed it in Ogle's court file. Baker said he did not know in advance about the letter and that he and Ogle have not discussed the guilty plea.

Millette has since recused himself from the case. He was replaced by Judge Frank A. Hoss Jr., court officials said.

Ogle had been scheduled for trial July 12. Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert said the court is not obligated to accept a guilty plea if it is not in the best interest of the defendant.

In his jailhouse interview -- the first time Ogle has spoken publicly about his case -- he said his fall from evangelical minister to accused plotter of his wife's murder has been a "nightmare."

"Let's just say it's been a huge, confused misunderstanding, and because I haven't been allowed to talk to anybody or people have chosen not to talk to me, there's been no way to get that straight," Ogle said.

Ogle, who gave up a teaching job at Herndon High School to enroll in a seminary, declined to explain himself further. In a separate letter to The Post, he wrote: "It is important to me to let people know that I made a horrible error in judgment at a time when several emotional dilemmas were occurring simulateously."

During yesterday's interview, Ogle refused to comment on any aspects of the alleged plot with the former church member, Scott Jinks, who alerted police about their conversations.

Ogle called Jinks, who testified against him at a preliminary hearing, "one of the few people I would have trusted with my life."

"He had the physical strength to do this, to commit the act that I proposed to him, but I knew that he had the emotional strength and the spiritual strength to withstand it, to not commit it," Ogle said from jail.

Ogle allegedly plotted the murder swap during marriage counseling sessions with Jinks and later allegedly sent Jinks an outline of his wife's daily comings-and-goings, complete with scenarios for shooting her and tips for the "assassin" on evading police.

Ogle would not comment on the document.

He said yesterday that he wants to make things right with his family, starting with sparing them the publicity that he thinks would attend his trial. "I refuse to harm my loved ones and friends any more than necessary," Ogle said.

His wife has not spoken to him or visited him since his arrest. His former pastor, Steve Austin, visited once. A few former congregants paid visits, and two of his four children contact him on the telephone daily.

If he ever gets out of jail, Ogle said, he wonders whether his wife would let him move back.

"I'm waiting to get a chance to get to talk to my wife about that," Ogle said. "I know that my pastor, Steve Austin, said that forgiveness was expected. Until I speak to my wife I have no idea."

CAPTION: James E. Ogle told a Prince William Circuit Court judge he will plead guilty in an alleged plot to murder his wife.