SALT LAKE CITY — A West Valley man who was set to face a jury for the second time on charges that he murdered his fiancée hours before their wedding has instead pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

After again hearing a summary of the evidence against him from his fiancée's 1996 death, Billy Justin Charles, now 39, gave a quiet affirmative response when a judge asked Tuesday whether he believed he would be found guilty if the case went to trial. Charles entered an Alford Plea, which indicates he maintains he did not commit a crime but that he would likely be convicted by a jury.

Charles' fiancée, 18-year-old Jamie Ellen Weiss, was found dead in a bathtub overflowing with cold water the day before the couple's wedding. A medical examiner later determined the young woman had no water in her lungs, but died from blunt force trauma and asphyxiation.

Charles wasn't charged with Weiss' death until 2007. He was found guilty of her murder in 2009 and was sentenced to five years to life in prison. Citing the circumstantial case against Charles and errors by attorneys, the Utah Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 2011 and ordered a new trial, which was set to begin later this year.

At a change of plea hearing Monday, prosecutor Tyson Hamilton said that after all this time, Weiss' family wants Charles to take responsibility for the young woman's death.

"They've wanted the defendant to accept responsibility in some form all along," Hamilton told 3rd District Judge Mark Kouris.

As part of the plea, prosecutors are not recommending a prison sentence for Charles, but rather support an additional year in jail followed by three years of probation.

"Mr. Charles has been incarcerated for nearly eight years and he will continue to be incarcerated until sentencing," noted Kim Cordova, Charles' attorney.

Sentencing has been set for Oct. 19.

Weiss' sister, Andraya Perrine, closed her eyes and put her head in her hand as Charles entered his plea. The family is apprehensive about the plea, she said afterward, and struggled to accept a resolution that allows Charles to walk free in a year.

"We just hope that when he gets out again that we've done the right thing," Perrine said.

While Deborah Nelson, Weiss' mother, said she hopes Charles will be able to lead a positive life after his release, she remains concerned some another woman could find herself in the same position that her young daughter did.

"My biggest concern is that he'll harm another girl," Nelson said. "(Weiss) was just 18 years old."

Nelson noted that Weiss and Charles' son, now grown, is doing well in his life and is serving in the Navy. However, closure will never truly be felt by many in Weiss' family, she said.

Weiss' family disputes that the couple had plans to be married, calling it an error that has followed the story for years. However, initial court documents and testimony during Charles' first trial indicated the couple was engaged. Amended charges filed in 3rd District Court on Tuesday refer to Charles' sister as a future in-law to Weiss.

Members of Charles' family declined comment as they left the courtroom.

While Charles pleaded guilty to recklessly causing Weiss' death, no details about how she was killed were presented in court Tuesday. Hamilton noted that, in a subsequent relationship, Charles' girlfriend accused him at one point of being a murderer and he responded that Weiss' death had been an accident.

Weiss was found dead by Charles' sister, who had come to pick her up to go get a manicure on Aug. 7, 1996. A number of puzzling circumstances surrounded the death, court documents note: the couple's son was wandering unharmed outside their trailer; a protective family pit bull, normally aggressive toward strangers, appeared unperturbed; both the home's air conditioner and furnace were running; a pair of shorts that Charles told police Weiss had been wearing that morning were found, soaking wet, under other used clothing in a hamper.

Police also questioned why, when he returned home that afternoon, Charles parked his truck about a mile away and walked to his trailer, claiming the vehicle had broken down and that Weiss had helped him get it going that morning. Police found the truck to be operating without any problems and neighbors reported Weiss was nowhere to be seen about 6 a.m. that morning when Charles drove away, unassisted and without any problems.

A medical examiner determined that Weiss likely died between 11 p.m. and 6:30 a.m., according to court documents.


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