In a move that may have allowed him to avoid the death penalty, Colton M. Hardy this morning pleaded no contest to first-degree murder charges in the 2009 beating death of Ethel Weaver, his 88-year-old neighbor in Dickinson Township.
Cumberland County President Judge Kevin A. Hess immediately sentenced Hardy, 21, to life in prison.
Under his plea deal, outlined by Senior Assistant District Attorney Christylee Peck, Hardy also must pay more than $10,000 in restitution to Weaver’s family to cover funeral costs and the clean-up of the murder scene in Weaver’s Torway Road home.
Hardy was to be tried in the case on Monday. The plea deal was reached Thursday.
Peck said authorities were prepared to prove that Hardy broke into Weaver’s home, watched her as she slept and fatally beat her when she awoke. He then stole her car and drove for hours before returning and parking it near his home.
Hardy told several state troopers he had committed the murder and led officers to key pieces of evidence, including a bloody glove, Peck said.
Hardy gave a tearful apology after Hess accepted his plea. “It wasn’t right. I can’t take it back. If I could, I would,” he said.
Tawyna Wagner, Weaver’s granddaughter, told Hess how the murder has upended her life and that of Weaver’s other relatives. She recalled Weaver as a kind, compassionate woman who would never turn away someone in need.
“She was the last person on Earth who deserved this,” Wagner said.