Justo Smoker today pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, kidnapping and other charges, admitting to killing Linda Stoltzfoos in June of last year. He will serve a sentence of 35½-to-71 years in prison as part of a plea deal. Smoker is 35 years old. He will avoid the death penalty.

He also faces further charges over a parole violation which could add about 17½ more years. Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams called this an effective life sentence in today’s press conference:

The deal was agreed in April in order to locate Linda’s body. From Lancaster Online:

The plea agreement, which was signed in April when he told investigators where he had buried her body, included a sentence of 35-1/2 years to 71 years in prison — the maximum possible — giving the 35-year-old only the most unlikely chance of ever seeing freedom again. The sentence will technically begin after a parole violation hearing in which he faces about 17-1/2 years stemming from prior armed robbery convictions.

All told, Smoker faces the likelihood of 88 years beyond bars, effectively a life sentence, according to the prosecution and judge.

The location of the body is the leverage that killers have to save them from execution in cases like this. So Smoker took advantage of the knowledge only he had, after months and months of exhaustive searches failed to turn up Linda’s remains. Smoker had first buried her in a different location, but moved her two days later after realizing that may have been a mistake. WGAL:

Investigators said Smoker admitted in April – 10 months after Stoltzfoos went missing as she walked home from church – that he had strangled and stabbed her.

He told investigators that he’d initially buried Stoltzfoos to the rear of Harvest Drive in Ronks, where police eventually found some of her clothing.

According to investigators, Smoker said he later moved Stoltzfoos’ body after he realized the original burial site was close to her Upper Leacock Township home.

After the deal was made, Smoker delivered the critical information:

Smoker drew a map for police detailing where he’d left her along some railroad tracks behind his former workplace in Gap.

“Investigators, unable to find the site or any indication of a grave, then escorted Smoker from the East Lampeter Township police station to the burial site and within a short time, Linda’s remains were recovered wrapped in a tarp and buried approximately 42 inches deep,” Adams said.

D.A. Adams said the deal was made because over time investigators had lost confidence that they would be able “to bring Linda home.” Both Linda’s family and investigators agreed with the plea deal approach in order to find Linda’s body. Essentially they believed they wouldn’t have found her body otherwise.

Adams explains that in this video, as well as showing photos of the location where Linda’s remains were recovered.

It was reported by WGAL that Linda’s parents were grateful for the plea agreement so that they could avoid a trial and having to relive the horrific experience again. Also from WGAL:

Stoltzfoos’ parents were not in the courtroom. Family spokesperson Samuel Blank said it was too hard for them.

Blank said Stoltzfoos was a caring, loving, timid young lady with a big heart for children who needed help. The family and the community will never be the same, he said.

Smoker apologized to Stoltzfoos’ family.

“I know Linda was a light. Because of me, the world is dimmer. All I can say is I’m sorry,” he said.

Judge David Ashford described Smoker’s actions as the height of depravity, as well as cowardly and despicable.

“Justo Smoker should never be given the chance again to inflict pain and carnage on the community,” Ashworth said.

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