Charles Homer Johnson, 54, pleaded guilty to second degree murder in the death of Mitch Gingry, 36, of Payson, in Superior Court, Friday.
Johnson also pleaded no contest to aggravated assault in the beating of Laura Hansen, 54, of Payson.
If accepted, the plea agreement would require Johnson to spend 23 1/2 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
Gingry's body was discovered on May 19, 2002 a short distance off the Beeline Highway at milepost 209 in Maricopa County.
Gingry had been stabbed 32 times according to the Maricopa County Coroner's report.
An investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office led to Payson where the MCSO and Payson police determined that Gingry had been murdered at a home in the 700 block of West Colt Drive.
At the time of the murder, Gingry had been renting a room at the Colt residence from Laura Lee Hansen. Hansen had a previous relationship with the suspect, Payson Police Detective Steve Johnson said.
"(Johnson) had come back into her life and she allowed him to stay there," Det. Johnson said.
What exactly led to Gingry's murder remains a mystery as Hansen has little recollection of events. Det. Johnson said Hansen was badly beaten and said that she believed she was also going to be killed that night.
"(Johnson's) only statement as far as motive was that he was attempting to defend Hansen against Gingry," Det. Johnson said. "But that's not the case. The evidence, the scene of the crime would tell you that that wasn't the case. Later when we interviewed Hansen, we believed he attempted to kill her."
The crime scene at the Colt Drive house revealed that Gingry was stabbed while laying on a couch.
"By the crime scene, you can tell that Gingry never gets off the couch," Det. Johnson said. "He is never able to get off that couch."
Det. Johnson said that Johnson had no defensive wounds to corroborate his statement that he was protecting Hansen.
Blood evidence at the crime scene suggested that Gingry was dragged out of the house and put in the trunk of his white Cadillac.
Gingry's body was later dumped off Highway 87 and Hansen and Johnson went to Johnson's mother's house, where he told her they had been in a car accident.
The following day, Johnson was arrested at the Phoenix home and Hansen was held for questioning.
"After we interviewed Hansen, we believe he attempted to kill her," Det. Johnson said.
Hansen had suffered several injuries, including a stab wound to her back.
Johnson was later indicted by the Gila County Grand Jury on a charge of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated assault/dangerous nature offense and one count of kidnapping/dangerous nature offense.
Members of Gingry's family were in the courtroom Friday, as Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill questioned Johnson, making sure he understood the terms and consequences of the plea agreement.
"Do you understand that if I accept this plea, you would be required to serve 23.5 years in the Arizona Department of Corrections?" Cahill asked.
The soft-spoken Johnson said yes.
Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores told Cahill that one of the reasons for the plea agreement was that they were unsure whether they could get a death penalty conviction. With the agreement they could secure a conviction and spare the victims the trauma of a trial, Flores said.
Flores also added that by the time Johnson is released, at age 77, he will no longer be a danger to society.
Cahill deferred accepting the plea agreement until sentencing on October 30.
Prior to the conclusion of the hearing, Johnson's attorneys asked the court to approve a $3,000 cataract surgery for Johnson to be paid by Gila County so that he could read a pre-sentencing report.
"I've never had such a request," Cahill said, "and $3,000 is a large expense for the county."
Cahill denied the request and stated that pre-sentencing documents could be read to Johnson.