Matt Phelps pleaded guilty this afternoon to shooting Jonathan DeJesus and Paul Damphier to death in a Florida soybean field in July 2012.
In what court clerk Kelly Phillips called a quick and straightforward appearance before Acting Judge Polly Hoye in Montgomery County Court, the 16-year-old Amsterdam boy pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder. As part of a plea agreement, Phelps will be sentenced July 11 to two concurrent prison terms of 15 years to life. He could have been sentenced to consecutive terms.
Phelps also agreed to testify against Anthony Brasmeister, who is also charged with murdering Damphier, 16 and DeJesus, 13, both of Amsterdam, on July 9. The two were reported missing the next day by their parents, and after a two-week search, police followed a tip to a secluded field near the Phelps residence on Snooks Corners Road in the town of Florida, where the boys were found shot to death.
At the time, investigators said they believed Phelps to be the trigger man, shooting Damphier and DeJesus in the torso with a family member’s rifle taken from his home. No further information on the incident was available Wednesday.
Phelps and Brasmeister were arrested shortly after the bodies were located, and indicted late last year on two counts each of second-degree murder and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. Phillips said Phelps' weapons charges were dropped as part of his plea deal.
Phelps originally pleaded not guilty to all charges at a hearing four months ago. His attorney, Robert Abdella, said that action simply allowed him time to gauge the strength of the prosecution’s case.
Abdella said the case was quite strong, but wouldn’t comment on what sort of proof the prosecution had. A few hours after his client appeared before Hoye, Abdella called the whole situation tragic.
“This is an entirely sad case all the way around,” he said. “Families lost loved ones. I have a client who — I was looking at him today and I don’t think he’s even shaving yet. He’s a bright kid. It’s sad to see a life with promise ruined.”
Brasmeister’s lawyer, Joseph McCoy, could not be reached today.
Brasmeister’s trial is still set to begin June 17 in Montgomery County Court, with a pretrial hearing April 30.