Steven Pieper admits to killing Jenni-Lyn Watson

Steven PieperSteven PieperSYRACUSE, N.Y. — Steven Pieper, of Clay, New York, pleaded guilty this morning to the Nov. 19, 2010, murder of Mercyhurst College student Jenni-Lyn Watson.

Pieper was arraigned on a charge of second-degree murder in Onondaga County Court. He immediately entered a guilty plea, and the proceeding took a total of eight minutes.

Pieper’s and Watson’s families were in attendance, sitting on separate sides of the courtroom, according to The Post Standard of Syracuse. Both families refused comment after the arraignment.

For more information about Pieper’s plea, visit The Post-Standard.

County Judge Anthony Aloi will sentence Pieper on March 8. New York law calls for a sentence of from 23 years to life in state prison.

Pieper and Watson had dated for more than a year and at one point had been engaged before Watson decided to sever ties with Pieper early in the 2010-11 school year. When Watson returned home from Mercyhurst for Thanksgiving break, Pieper showed up at her house on the morning of Nov. 19.

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said Watson told Pieper their relationship was over between 11 and 11:15 a.m. Pieper has now admitted to strangling her in the succeeding minutes and then carrying her body in broad daylight to his car.

Pieper had denied each of these events in prison, according to Fitzpatrick, bragging to inmates that authorities could not present enough evidence to convict him at a trial. The prosecutor said he does not believe Pieper has shown remorse for the crime and is only sorry he was caught.

Evidence mounted against him during the past two months, leading Pieper and defense lawyer Scott Brenneck to enter a guilty plea.

Investigators discovered that Deputy Sean Andrews pulled Pieper over for a missing front license plate shortly after the accused left Watson’s home. Pieper apologized repeatedly to the officer, causing Andrews to let him off with a warning.

The prosecution said they believe the run-in caused him to immediately head for Clay Central Park. Police found Watson’s body dumped behind an amphitheater there eight days later after an extensive search by police, family and friends.

Watson’s and Pieper’s cell phones also played a key role in building a case against him. He had taken her phone with him after the murder, eventually tossing it into a local garbage burning steam plant in an apparent effort to throw authorities off his trail. But pings from her phone helped lead police to the park where her body was found, and Pieper’s phone was later discovered at Watson’s home.

Had the case gone to trial, “it would’ve been a very strong case(against Pieper),” Fitzprick said. Pieper apparently pleaded guilty to spare both families the pain involved in a trial process.