A Nicholas County man has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the killings of two adults and two children.
James Roy Belknap, 27, of Leivasy pleaded guilty Wednesday in Nicholas County Circuit Court to four counts of first-degree murder, Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Paul O’Dell told media outlets.
Belknap was charged with fatally shooting Steven Leroy Hendrix, Amber Martin and Hendrix’s two young children. The victims’ bodies were found on May 26, 2012. Police said the victims had been stripped and their bodies were dumped down a mountainside.
A criminal complaint says the shootings occurred over a drug debt. Belknap was arrested two days later at a police roadblock.
Sentencing was set for Aug. 28.
Prosecutor P.K. Milam said Thursday the guilty plea came as a surprise.
“We didn’t think he would admit to killing the two children particularly,” Milam said. “He plead straight up to the charges. That’s the worst he could have done at trial. We weren’t offering him any plea deals in this case because of the heinousness of it.”
In 2006, Belknap’s father, Kenneth Belknap, was sentenced in Nicholas County to life in prison with the possibility of parole for first-degree murder.
James Belknap pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge in the same case, and prosecutors dismissed a murder indictment against the son, according to court records.
An account of court testimony in The Register-Herald indicated the victim, Richard Parnell, was shot in a dispute over a cocaine deal and his body was then set on fire. Kenneth Belknap said his son had no involvement in Parnell’s killing.
The state Division of Corrections has said that James Belknap was released from prison in 2009.