The self-proclaimed Happy Face serial killer was handed a life sentence Thursday in a murder for which two others have been imprisoned for five years.
Keith Jesperson, 40, pleaded no contest in the rape and strangulation of Taunja Bennett. Under a plea agreement, he will serve a minimum of 30 years of the life term.
In court Thursday, Jesperson described in detail how he alone had killed Bennett. He said he didn’t even know Laverne Pavlinac and John Sosnovske, who were convicted in the killing.
The plea was a necessary step in prosecutors’ efforts to free Pavlinac and Sosnovske.
“Until someone stepped up to the line and said, ‘Hey, I did it,” there’s speculation,” said Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk.
Schrunk said it would be up to a Marion County judge to determine whether Jesperson’s plea would be sufficient to warrant release of Pavlinac and Sosnovske.
After Jesperson led investigators to Bennett’s purse at the murder scene, Portland prosecutors asked Marion County Circuit Judge Paul Lipscomb last week to set Pavlinac and Sosnovske free. But the judge said there was insufficient evidence to warrant releasing them.
Lipscomb added that the two could request a hearing and present additional evidence.
Jesperson’s guilty plea means he now can testify before Lipscomb in the case, Schrunk said.
Jesperson has sent handwritten letters adorned with “smiley faces” to news media in which he claimed to have killed Bennett and seven other women in four other states.
An interstate trucker, Jesperson has been held in Vancouver, Wash., where he is awaiting sentencing for kidnapping, raping and strangling a woman in March.
He says he killed other women in California, Florida and Wyoming.