A Palmdale man accused of sexually assaulting and drowning a fellow Navy courier 14 years ago in Virginia pleaded guilty to the crime in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.
Richard H. Whittle, 38, changed his not-guilty plea after a judge rejected a motion to suppress a confession Whittle gave federal investigators during an interview before his June arrest in the San Fernando Valley.
"It was a very complete and detailed confession," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Laura Everhart, who was prosecuting the case in Norfolk.
Whittle, who worked as a handyman at a Burbank clinical laboratory before his arrest, was taken to Virginia by federal authorities shortly after a July detention hearing at federal court in Los Angeles.
At that hearing, U.S. Atty. George B. Newhouse Jr. told a federal magistrate that Whittle had confessed to the slaying of 21-year-old Pamela Ann Kimbrue in March 1982.
Federal investigators who began reexamining the case in May 1995 said they used new technology such as DNA evidence and more sophisticated ways of examining fingerprints to finally bring murder and rape charges so many years after Kimbrue's body was found in her car at the bottom of Willoughby Bay at Norfolk Naval Air Station.
Whittle was known locally as a devoted family man and a reliable worker, but prosecutors said he brutally raped and strangled Kimbrue of Bay City, Mich. An autopsy determined that Kimbrue, who suffered blunt-force injuries and trauma to her head and face, died from "drowning following mechanical strangulation."
Whittle's trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday.
After Whittle pleaded guilty, Judge Rebecca Beach Smith scheduled sentencing for Dec. 17 in Norfolk.
Everhart said Whittle faces life in prison for killing Kimbrue and up to life in prison for raping her. Whittle will be eligible for parole in about 10 years because the crime occurred before federal sentencing guidelines eliminated parole, she said.