COLUMBIA — The Columbia man charged in the slaying of a 67-year-old woman in late 2010 pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree murder and seven other felony charges.
The Boone County Prosecuting Attorney's Office had increased Ryan Bridger's charge to first-degree murder earlier this week.
Aletha Turner was shot in the head on Dec. 17, 2010, found unconscious in her home in the Lake of the Woods area on Dec. 20 and died two days later at University Hospital. Bridger was arrested the next day in connection with a burglary and charged later that week in Turner's slaying. Investigators linked the gun used to kill Turner with the gun stolen from her brother's home in a burglary.
Bridger's additional charges are the result of the Boone County Prosecuting Attorney's office combining Bridger's two pending cases — the Dec. 17, 2010, incident and the incident involving Turner's brother.
In Boone County Circuit Court on Friday, Bridger admitted to the crime — though he did not admit directly to shooting Turner — and pleaded guilty to felony murder, in which someone dies as a result of a felony. In Bridger's case, that felony was first-degree burglary.
"This is not a lesser form of murder in the second degree," Boone County Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight said about the Missouri law. "The punishment is the same; the percentage of time people must serve is the same."
Bridger pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree burglary, one count of felony stealing, and three counts of forgery in addition to the second-degree murder and first-degree burglary charge.
Knight recommended that Bridger, 24, serve 27 years. He will have to serve nearly 23 years of that sentence before he is eligible for parole.
"I feel very good about this plea," Knight said. "This was an extremely complex case."
Spencer Turner, brother of the victim, said no punishment could ever be enough to compensate for the loss of his sister.
"Society needs to be protected from (Bridger), in my opinion," he said. "He will not hurt anybody else."
Spencer Turner said his sister moved to Columbia to be near her family.
"Aletha was a wonderful, kind woman who spent her life caring for others," he said. "She is missed by her family and by me."
He added that he was satisfied with the way the prosecutor's office and the Boone County Sheriff's Department handled the case.
Had the case gone to trial, the prosecutor's office said it would have relied on circumstantial evidence — including a check written from Aletha Turner's stolen checkbook — because there were no eyewitnesses, video surveillance, DNA or other physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime, such as fingerprints, hair or a gun.
Knight added that he was pleased with the plea agreement as opposed to a jury trial, which had been scheduled to begin Oct. 29, because the opportunity to appeal is more limited with a plea.
"We have the certainty of conviction," Knight said. "I was pleased because there would have been a risk that he would have been found not guilty if it had gone to trial."