FLINT (AP) – A man accused of raping and killing a University of Michigan-Flint provost and music professor has pleaded no contest in the case.
Jeffrey Gorton, 40, of Vienna Township, had been scheduled to go on trial yesterday before Genesee County Circuit Judge Archie Hayman for the 1986 slaying of Margarette Eby, 55.
Instead, he entered the plea Monday to charges of first-degree premeditated murder, felony murder and first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Gorton will be sentenced Feb. 6. A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt but is treated as such for sentencing purposes.
Defense attorney Philip Beauvais II told Hayman he tried to dissuade Gorton from pleading, The Flint Journal reported.
“I’ve been an attorney for 24 years and represented some people charged with the most heinous crimes, and never in my wildest dreams would I ever believe (Gorton) would enter a plea on first-degree murder,” he said.
Genesee County Prosecutor Arthur Busch called Gorton’s plea “highly unusual.”
“After these many years, the family of Mrs. Eby and the Flint community can have closure to one of its most shocking and brutal murders,” he said.
Eby’s raped and nearly decapitated body was found in her Flint bedroom on Nov. 9, 1986.
Gorton is already serving three life sentences for the murder and rape of Northwest Airlines flight attendant Nancy Ludwig.
Ludwig’s body was found in a hotel room Feb. 17, 1991, near Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Like Eby, she had been bound and gagged before her throat was slashed.
Gorton was arrested last year after police say they matched his DNA to samples found at both murder sites.
Beauvais said Gorton’s decision to plead in the Eby case was based partly on the previous conviction and partly on the desire to spare his family from the trial.
Eby’s son, Mark Eby, said the family also is grateful to be spared from the testimony.
“We had discussed how much of it we would listen to, and it’s a blessing we don’t have to relive it in that level of detail,” said Mark Eby, 50, of Macomb County’s Shelby Township.
But Eby said his 7-year-old daughter provided the best answer for why Gorton chose the last-minute plea.
“(She said) God answered our prayers,” he said. “That’s the observation that makes the most sense to me.”