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FARMINGTON, Utah (AP) -- A plea bargain preserved Mark Anthony Ott from a possible death sentence in the arson death of a 6-year-old girl.
Now a jury will be empaneled to decide whether the life sentence he receives will be with or without the possibility of parole.
Ott, 39, entered an Alford plea Tuesday to the capital homicide charge. That means he does not admit guilt but accepts there is sufficient evidence to convict him. He pleaded guilty to charges of attempted aggravated murder, aggravated arson and aggravated assault.
Ott was accused of entering the Layton home of his ex-wife, Donna Ott, on Sept. 1, 2002, and stabbing Allen Lawrence, Donna Ott's boyfriend, and Sarah Gooch, Donna Ott's daughter, and then setting the house on fire. Allen Lawrence's daughter, Lacey Paige Lawrence, died of smoke inhalation in the blaze.
Ott's attorneys contended he did not know the child was there, had no intent kill her and should not have been charged with capital homicide. Prosecutors contended it was his intent to kill whoever was in the house. The Utah Supreme Court in October refused to consider the defense attorneys' arguments against the murder charge.
Ott's pleas were entered on the day jury selection was to have started for his trial. Instead, jury selection began for the panel that will determine whether he will be eligible for parole.
Sitting in the courtroom were Lacey Lawrence's parents, Terri Cook and Allen Lawrence, along with Donna Ott and her family. Sarah Gooch sat next to Allen Lawrence.
Terri Cook sobbed quietly as she heard Ott quietly say "yes" to all of Judge Michael G. Allphin's questions before his pleas were accepted.
Davis County Attorney Mel Wilson said the plea agreement, which included taking the death penalty off the table, was in the works for several weeks.
He could not discuss any details because of a gag order issued by Allphin on March 9.
Ott's lead attorney, John T. Caine, said, "It's very clear my client did not know that little girl was in that house. He is assuming responsibility for what happened."
Another defense attorney, Aric Cramer, said that in the sentencing hearings, the "entire story will come out and you'll find out what kind of guy Mark Ott is. He wants that out."
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)