HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — A man who killed his estranged wife and four other people in Tennessee in 2009 admitted Friday to killing a sixth person in north Alabama at the start of the rampage.
Jacob Shaffer, 33, pleaded guilty to murdering 50-year-old Sidney Wade Dempsey, who was beaten to death at a marble company in Huntsville. Shaffer told investigators he killed Dempsey to prepare himself for the beating and stabbing deaths in Lincoln County, Tenn., a few hours later.
"He admitted he killed Sidney Dempsey to see if he had the mettle to go kill his wife and the others," said Jay Town, a Madison County prosecutor. "It was a test. He was just seeing if he could do it."
Shaffer reached plea deals in both states that allow him to avoid possible death sentences in all six murders. In court he wore a jail uniform and a bullet-proof vest. He admitted to the Tennessee killings in 2011 and already is serving life there.
Town told reporters that Shaffer deserved the death penalty in Alabama, but court rulings that threw out his confession as evidence would have made it difficult. "Jacob Shaffer does not deserve the possibility of life in prison without parole," Town said.
Alabama jurors still must consider evidence in Dempsey's murder because Shaffer pleaded guilty to a capital charge. A judge set the abbreviated trial for April 29. Shaffer's estranged wife, Tracie, her teenage son, her father and brother and a 16-year-old neighbor were found dead in two homes in rural Fayetteville, Tenn., on July 18, 2009. Authorities alleged he hitchhiked there after killing Dempsey, an acquaintance, about 30 miles away in Huntsville.
Authorities have said Shaffer's wife was his primary target in Tennessee, and he killed the other people to prevent them from stopping him. The couple had been having marital difficulties. "It was just a jealousy thing if nothing else, that, 'If I can't have you nobody will,'" said Town.
Shaffer called authorities after the Tennessee slayings, and police found him at the scene with his 4-year-old daughter, who wasn't harmed. Shaffer killed Dempsey, who was shot with a stun gun before being fatally beaten, at Hall Marble, which was owned by the family of Shaffer's wife.