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SALT LAKE CITY — A Florida man admitted Monday to raping and killing a 16-year-old girl in 1977 in an apartment complex where he worked.
Patrick Michael McCabe, 59, of Bell, Florida, accepted a deal from prosecutors that removed a potential death penalty from the case.
Originally charged with murder in the first degree, capital offense, in the death of 16-year-old Sharon "Lecia" Schollmeyer, McCabe pleaded guilty Monday to murder in the second degree, a first-degree felony carrying a prison sentence of at least five years and up to life in prison.
McCabe also pleaded guilty Monday to aggravated burglary, a first-degree felony, while a first-degree felony charge of aggravated sexual assault was dismissed.
Prosecutors say McCabe, who was 20 years old at the time, raped and murdered Schollmeyer on Dec. 5, 1977. Schollmeyer's body was found in a bathtub in her apartment at 125 E. First Ave., where McCabe was the apartment manager, according to court documents.
McCabe admitted Monday that he used a set of keys he had through his job at the apartment complex to get into Schollmeyer's home, where he found her asleep in her bed and raped her. He then took her into the bathroom and killed her.
As he accepted McCabe's plea, 3rd District Judge Paul Parker asked McCabe "what was in your head" when he slipped into the apartment.
Seated in a wheelchair, McCabe replied simply, "to rape Ms. Schollmeyer."
McCabe used his keys again later to unlock the door and let Schollmeyer's mother into her apartment to check on her daughter when she learned she hadn't reported for work, charges state.
Police reported in 1977 that Schollmeyer was found in 6 inches of water in the bathtub with a halter top used as a gag in her mouth and a scarf tied around her head and covering her nose and eyes. Pieces of rope were also in the tub, and a butcher's knife was found on the bathmat, court documents say.
The halter top was submitted for DNA testing in 2013, and the resulting DNA profile was sent to the FBI's Combined DNA Index System database last year. The database matched that DNA profile with McCabe's name in December, according to an affidavit filed in 3rd District Court.
Once McCabe was identified and located, Salt Lake police sent a team to Florida to arrest him. He was extradited to Utah last month.
McCabe's criminal history in Florida includes a sexual offense against a minor in 1999 for which he served time in prison, court documents indicate.
As she left the courtroom Monday, Schollmeyer's mother, Sally Kadleck, said that after nearly 40 years with no leads in the case, she could hardly believe McCabe had been found.
"Not knowing is really a terrible thing. … For 40 years, I never thought I'd live long enough," Kadleck said.
She added, "I'm just glad they found him."
Kadleck praised the police and prosecutors who pursued the investigation, and the technological advances that cracked the case.
"It speaks volumes for DNA," Kadleck said. "DNA is everything."
Schollmeyer's sister, Brigett Love, said the family is relieved that after all this time McCabe is cooperating with prosecutors and quickly bringing the case to a close.
"He doesn't want to make us suffer any longer than we already have," she said.
Love, who was 12 when her sister died, said the years without her have been deeply painful.
"It's been terrible," she said. "There are a lot of bad feelings not having her in our lives."
McCabe's attorney, Michael Sikora, told the judge that the case is proceeding quickly at McCabe's request.
"He wanted to move quickly on this resolution," he said.
Sikora did not comment on the deal as he left the courthouse Monday.
Mathew Janzen, Salt Lake County deputy district attorney, said prosecutors are pleased to see the case come to a "rapid end."
"It worked out very well that we were able to come to a resolution before any preliminary hearing or any trial in this matter, so that the family didn't have to go through some of the hard things that a trial would expose them to," Janzen said.
Sentencing for McCabe is scheduled for June 12.
As part of the plea deal, Janzen said McCabe is expected to face two consecutive sentences of at least five years and up to life in prison.