Clark enters guilty pleas

Dressed all in black and facing charges of fatally beating two elderly women, Barbara Clark pleaded guilty Monday in a voice that was bearly audible.

Her attorney repeated what she could not say.

"There is no way that she can even attempt to try to forgive herself," said Public Defender James Williams. "She is as remorseful as anyone I have ever represented."

Clark pleaded on two counts of first-degree murder and will serve two consecutive life sentences without parole for the beating deaths of two housekeeping clients at the Galloway Ridge retirement community in Fearrington Village.

She also received 13 to 16 additional years for assaulting the victims' neighbor with intent to kill and stealing nearly $12,500 in a separate case. The District Attorney's Office dismissed a dozen other financial crimes.

By taking a plea deal, Clark avoided a possible death sentence.

In retelling the crime to Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, Assistant District Attorney Kayley Taber said Clark had planned to poison Margaret "Peg" Murta, 92, and Mary Corcoran, 82, with antifreeze or pharmaceuticals stolen from other clients and steal the women's money.

But they discovered she had forged a $1,000 check from Murta's account, and Corcoran confronted her when she came to clean their apartment on Dec. 5, 2007. She beat the two women to death with a cane and critically injured their friend Becky Fisher, then 77, whom they had asked to witness the confrontation.

Fisher and family members told Taber that Murta and Corcoran were lifelong social workers who wanted to confront Clark themselves rather than involving police.

"They thought that they could help people," the victim's relative Clara Corcoran wrote in a letter to Taber. "They thought that they could fix people."

First responders told Taber the amount of blood made them think the weapon had been a hatchet or a gun.

All I remember is blood, Clark told investigators.

Paramedics found a check for $1,000 from Clark in Corcoran's hand amid the bloody crime scene -- apparently intended to pay the women back.

Fisher told investigators the beatings began when Corcoran told Clark she was no longer welcome at the retirement community.

"At times like this, you want to offer some sort of explanation," said Williams, "and, unfortunately, I don't have one to offer."

After viewing autopsy photos Monday, Manning said this was one of the worst crimes he's seen in 40 years of practicing law. He did not admonish Clark as judges often do.

"Sometimes the best thing for the court to do is say nothing at all," he said. "She'll have to live with whatever happened that day for the rest of her life."

At the start of the hearing, Williams presented Manning with a letter from a forensic psychiatrist stating that Clark is competent to stand trial. "I wanted to assure your honor that competency is not an issue in this matter," Williams said.

"I think that is a wise and prudent thing to do under the circumstances," Manning said.

Clark's sister, Julie Stephens, asked Taber to send her family's apologies to Clara Corcoran. Manning allowed Stephens to speak to her sister.

"Wherever you are, I'm always going to be there for you," Stephens said. "My love is unconditional."

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer