A man accused of strangling a Maryland woman he met in a sex-oriented Internet chat room pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter today after prosecutors dropped a murder charge and the slain woman's family approved of the plea.
Robert Glass, 48, entered the plea in the death of Sharon Lopatka, 35, of Hampstead in north central Maryland, in October 1996. Her body was found buried in Glass's yard. Glass also pleaded guilty in another case to six counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor under the plea agreement with prosecutors.
Caldwell County Superior Court Judge Claude Sitton sentenced him to a minimum four years, nine months in prison--36 to 53 months in prison for manslaughter and 21 to 26 months on the first of the other six other charges. Sentences for the other counts were suspended.
Glass, who had been scheduled to stand trial March 6, initially was charged with first-degree murder in Lopatka's death.
Prosecutors said he and Lopatka met in an Internet chat room, trading messages under the names "slowhand" and "nancy." Authorities believed the messages between them described how Glass planned to sexually torture and kill Lopatka, a search warrant affidavit said.
Lopatka told relatives she was going to visit friends in Georgia but left a note saying she was "not returning and asked her husband not to go after the one who did this to her," according to the affidavit.
Glass picked up Lopatka at a train station Oct. 13. She died a few days later, authorities said. Her body was found more than a week after that in a shallow grave 25 feet from Glass's mobile home near Lenoir after Lopatka's husband reported her missing.
At today's hearing, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Jennings said Glass told prosecutors that Lopatka died accidentally while they were having sex Oct. 15, 1996. He said Lopatka had looped a nylon cord around her neck before having sex with him, and they pulled on the cord.
"I don't know how much I pulled on the rope. I shouldn't have pulled on the rope," Jennings quoted Glass as saying to prosecutors. "I never wanted to kill her, but she ended up dead."
Lopatka's husband, Victor, said at today's hearing that her family didn't believe Glass's version of what happened but decided to go along with the plea agreement.
"We just want to end it," he said.
Other relatives read a statement declaring that Glass took advantage of Lopatka. "Robert Glass did not care," the statement said. "He took advantage of her situation. He could have walked away. He debased not only her but her body after she was dead."
The sexual exploitation charges were filed after authorities found pornography on Glass's computer depicting children engaged in sex.
Glass previously pleaded guilty to a federal charge of possessing pornography depicting minors having sex and was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison.
Under the plea agreement, Glass will be credited with the three years he has spent in jail when he begins serving his state sentence, but he must serve his full 27-month federal sentence.
In addition, he faces five years of state-supervised probation, two to three years of federal probation and must pay $5,526 restitution to Lopatka's family and $20,000 to his court-appointed attorneys.