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Third Murder Sentence For ‘Happy Face Killer’

Associated Press

Keith Hunter Jesperson, the “Happy Face Killer” who has claimed responsibility for the deaths of eight women in five states, was sentenced Tuesday to more than 34 years in prison for the strangling of one woman in March.

It was the third recent murder sentence for Jesperson, 40, a longhaul truck driver.

He was sentenced to 34 years and four months in prison after the son of Julie Winningham told Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Harris his mother’s death had plunged the family into darkness.

Jesperson pleaded guilty two months ago to first-degree murder in the Camas woman’s death. In exchange, Clark County prosecutors dismissed charges of rape and kidnapping.

At that time, authorities confirmed he was the author of murder confession letters to newspapers that were signed only with a “smiley” face.

On Friday, Jesperson pleaded guilty in Hillsboro, Ore., to the strangling of Laurie Ann Pentland, 23, of Carlton, Ore., in 1992 and was sentenced to life in prison.

He was sentenced earlier to life in prison for the killing of Taunja Bennett in Portland in 1990.

All three sentences are to run consecutively.

Jesperson remains under investigation in killings in Wyoming, Florida and California.

Winningham, 41, had been living in Salt Lake City before she appeared in Camas with Jesperson. Her nude body was found on March 11 below a viewpoint off Washington 14 about four miles east of Washougal.

Investigators found Jesperson’s name as a witness on a car Winningham had wrecked and sold, then traced him to his employer, Systems Transport in the Eastern Washington town of Cheney.

When contacted by sheriff’s detectives, he said he had gagged her with duct tape, raped her in the sleeping cab of his rig and strangled her.

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