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Trucker Pleads Guilty To Strangling Woman So-Called ‘Happy Face’ Killer Avoids Aggravated Murder Charge

William Mccall Associated Press

A former long-haul trucker who claims to have killed eight women in five states pleaded guilty Wednesday to strangling a Camas woman and dumping her nude body along a road last March.

Keith Hunter Jesperson, 40, also had been charged with rape and kidnapping in the March 10 slaying of Julie Ann Winningham, 41, near Washougal.

Jesperson had pleaded innocent to all three charges but a deal was reached between Clark County prosecutor Mark Beam and Jesperson’s lawyer, Thomas C. Phelan, requiring a guilty plea only to the murder charge.

Jesperson appeared before Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert L. Harris, who set sentencing for Nov. 27.

Jesperson faces a sentence ranging from 20 years to life in prison.

He was not accused of aggravated murder, the only charge that carries a death penalty.

Jesperson has written letters to news media, each adorned with a “happy face,” in which he claimed to have also killed women in Oregon, Wyoming, Florida and California.

Unlike the other women Jesperson says he killed shortly after picking them up on the road, Winningham apparently had been his girlfriend for a time.

Friends who knew she was dating a tall trucker named “Keith” eventually led investigators to the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Jesperson.

He confessed in a long-distance phone call to a Clark County sheriff’s detective a day after he learned investigators were tracking him.

“He’s guilty but he has no remorse,” Winningham’s son, Don Findlay, said after Wednesday’s hearing. “I feel he deserves the death penalty.”

Phelan said his client doesn’t want to die, but wants to atone for his crimes.

“Mr. Jesperson wants to accept responsibility for the death of Julie Ann Winningham. That’s the reason he chose to plead guilty,” he said.

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