A guilty plea in a grisly 2009 murder has saved the killer from the death penalty.

Joshua Lindell Rouse, 24, entered a plea of guilty Friday to the crime of first degree murder in the June 15, 2009, killing of Sandy Denise Riedel, 29.

Rouse entered the guilty plea before Halifax County Chief Superior Court Judge Alma Hinton, and though he hesitated when Hinton asked him if he was, in fact, guilty, Rouse did admit to the crime and received a sentence of life in prison without parole.

The state had been seeking the death penalty in the case, but the plea agreement spares Rouse from facing lethal injection.

“I’m glad it’s over,” one of Rouse’s attorneys, Sam Dixon, said. “This was a good result in this case.”

“It was a fair result,” Rouse’s other attorney, Jack Warmack, said. “This case has caused a lot of aggravation and heartache for both sides, and we’re glad to have it behind us.”

North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations Agent Walter Brown told the court Riedel’s body was discovered in the office of Applebee’s Restaurant on Premier Boulevard in the early morning hours of June 15. Riedel had been working late the previous evening, preparing for an inspection, Brown said, and she was discovered cut and stabbed to death by employees reporting early for work.

Rouse was also employed at the restaurant at the time, Brown said, and it was reported by Rouse’s then-girlfriend that he had come to the house “in a state of some panic” the morning of the murder, changed his clothes and discarded the clothes he was wearing. Cell phone records indicated one of the last calls on Riedel’s cell phone was to Rouse’s phone, and a trace showed Riedel’s phone had been taken to Rocky Mount and then powered off. Shortly after, Rouse’s cell phone powered on in the same vicinity, according to Brown.

Rouse’s then-girlfriend told investigators, Brown said, the pair had gone to a hotel in Rocky Mount the morning Riedel was discovered to have been murdered.

When police confronted Rouse with this evidence, Brown said, he confessed to having killed Riedel.

Halifax County District Attorney Melissa Pelfrey said she’d been talking with Riedel’s family throughout this ordeal, and was impressed by how they’d handled things.

“The family has shown an extraordinary amount of faith,” Pelfrey said. “I think Sandy would be very proud of the faith they have shown.”

Pelfrey also commended Riedel’s family for agreeing to move forward with the plea arrangement.

“It’s my understanding Ms. Riedel showed a great deal of compassion to Mr. Rouse before this happened,” Pelfrey said. “The family, by accepting this plea, is showing that compassion is continuing.”

After Rouse was led from the courtroom, his mother was called before Hinton to answer an accusation she had given her son a cell phone, a violation of the rules of the Halifax County Detention Center. Rouse’s mother admitted to the court she had, indeed, given her son the phone.

“I just wanted to be able to talk to my son,” she said. “I apologize. I was wrong.”

Pelfrey and Hinton expressed anger for what they saw as a betrayal.

“We have gone to great lengths to let this woman meet with her son throughout this process,” Pelfrey said. “I don’t know how this court could see this as anything other than a slap in the face.”

“It is a slap in the face,” Hinton said. “I will accept your apology, but I do believe you knew exactly what you were doing.”

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