The suspect in the 1975 disappearance of two girls from Maryland is expected to plead guilty, the Washington Post first reported, citing multiple unidentified officials familiar with plea negotiations.
WTOP reports Lloyd Lee Welch Jr. will accept a life sentence rather than risk a death sentence by going to trial. It's unclear if he will admit guilt or enter Alford plea, under which he would accept responsibility because he knows there is enough evidence against him for a conviction at trial.
A Virginia prosecutor also “has been in talks about a plea” with Welch in connection to two sexual assault cases dating to the 1990s.
Welch is accused of killing two young Maryland sisters who disappeared in the 1970s after visiting a D.C.-area mall. He was scheduled to go on trial next Tuesday in the Lyon sisters case, but the Associated Press reported the trial was postponed by at least a day. A notation in online court records indicating the jury trial would begin on Sept. 12 in Bedford County has been withdrawn. The records now show that a pre-trial motion hearing is scheduled that day.
Welch is charged with the first-degree murders of 12-year-old Sheila Lyon and her sister, 10-year-old Katherine. The girls were last seen walking home from the Wheaton Plaza mall in Montgomery County in spring 1975. Police believe Welch lured the girls away from the mall, sexually assaulted them and killed them before burning their bodies in a bonfire on property in Bedford, Virginia, owned by his family.
It was a cold case that haunted many in the D.C. area for decades.
In 2014, Welch -- a convicted sex offender who'd been in a Delaware prison since 1997 on a rape conviction -- was named as a person of interest in the case. He was charged with the sisters' murders the following year, although their bodies have not been found.
Welch was noticed paying attention to the sisters the afternoon they vanished, investigators said. He admitted being with the girls the day they disappeared and implicated his uncle Richard Welch in their sexual assault. Richard Welch has not been charged and his family insists he had nothing to do with the Lyon sisters' disappearance.
Prosecutors said they have 15 different victim accounts that allege rape, attempted abduction, and domestic violence against Welch, according to WSET-TV. Several of the incidents happened at or around the mall.
In January, a Virginia judge ruled prosecutors may seek the death penalty against Welch.
Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert would not say if a deal had been finalized for the two sex assault cases, Mark Segraves reported.
SISTERS VANISHED WITHOUT A TRACE
Sheila and Katherine Lyon left their home in Kensington, Maryland, on March 25, 1975, to walk about a half-mile to Wheaton Plaza, now known as Westfield Wheaton mall. They were on spring break, and they wanted to get pizza for lunch and see the Easter decorations. They had less than $4 with them.
A friend of the girls saw them outside the Orange Bowl restaurant with an older man who had a tape recorder and a briefcase, according to news and missing persons reports. A sketch of that man was later made and distributed, but the man was never located.
The girls were later spotted on the road to home, but did not arrive by their 4 p.m. curfew. By 7 p.m. that night, police had been called.
Sheila and Katherine Lyon were never seen again.
The disappearance of the Lyon sisters dominated local D.C.-area news when it happened, and it became one the region's most famous cold cases. It inspired Baltimore mystery novelist Laura Lippman's 2007 book, "What the Dead Know" and was the subject of countless unsolved-crimes shows.
Many people who grew up in the suburbs of D.C. remember how profoundly the disappearance shook their view of the safety of their community.
"It was just stunning. It could have been anybody's kids," said Charleen Merkel, a shopper at Westfield Wheaton, after investigators announced a break in the case. Merkel said she remembered the disappearance well.
Another shopper, who did not give her name, shared, "It brings back a lot of memories of being scared growing up."