BEND, Ore. - A 31-year-old Pendleton man pleaded guilty to murder in a Bend courtroom Wednesday afternoon, admitting he fatally beat a retired teacher and Arabian horse breeder at her home in the Cloverdale area last August.
Deschutes County Circuit Judge Alta Brady sentenced Joshua Leo Jokinen to life in prison with at least 25 years before he's eligible to seek parole in the Aug. 31, 2013 killing of Carolyn Burdick, who died of blunt force trauma to the head.
Jokinen spoke briefly at one point during the one-hour hearing and apologized to the woman's family for the pain he caused.
Before the sentencing, a statement from the victim's husband, Daniel, was read in court. He said the family forgives Jokinen and hope that in the future he is "one with God."
Such a plea change just days before a murder trial was set to begin was a first in the eyes of many, including District Attorney Patrick Flaherty.
"I've not seen someone plead straight up to murder in my entire career," he said after the proceeding.
Family members declined to speak to reporters at the courthouse.
Flaherty had told NewsChannel 21 earlier Wednesday that Jokinen's decision to change his plea was not a result of a plea bargain, but rather to improve his chances of eventually leaving prison
"His eligibility for (post-prison supervision, meaning parole) would be greatly enhanced if he enters a guilty plea today, because unlike probably 99 percent of those in prison for murder, he could prove that he accepted responsibility for his crime," the DA added.
Jokinen has been held without bail since his arrest on a murder charge, along with a parole violation.
Jokinen called dispatchers to turn himself in in Madras later that day, having reportedly told Jefferson County Jail officials he had "committed a murder" in Sisters, according to a search warrant affidavit submitted by Deschutes County sheriff's Deputy Jason Jaynes.
Around the time of Jokinen's arrest near the Tiger Mart in Madras on the Umatilla County parole violation charge, a friend who periodically checked in on Burdick found the woman's body in her home on Kent Road east of Sisters and called 911, according to Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton, who called the killing a "strange, senseless act."
Jokinen had been at the woman's home stacking wood, according to the affidavit, which stated that Jokinen's brother, Seth, and a woman also were there, as well as the victim's young grandson. Joshua Jokinen had gone inside to clean the fireplace and came out about 10 minutes later, "acting strange," Seth Jokinen said.
The affidavit also indicated Burdick's 7-year-old grandson was inside the home during the crime and came out of the house crying. A witness at the scene said the boy was "saying something like grandma is dead."
Jokinen, who has a lengthy criminal history, was living in Madras when he sentenced in 2006 to nearly six years in prison for beating a man with a trailer-hitch ball at a home there. He fled but was caught 10 days later and later pleaded guilty to attempted murder and second-degree assault.
Sheryl Webb Pack, who had a son with Joshua Jokinen, told NewsChannel 21 shortly after his arrest that she believed he never should have been released from prison, as he struggled with drugs for many years, and she had experienced many years of physical and mental abuse.
Neighbors described Burdick as a former long-time teacher who had lived in Albany and who had chickens, dogs and two parrots, along with her Arabian horse. Neighbor Vernie Merritt said she was kind and loving, and an active part of the community.