- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - One of two defendants charged in the slaying of an elementary school teacher during a burglary of her home has pleaded guilty to murder and other charges.

Thomas Moore, 26, avoided a possible death penalty with the plea and was immediately sentenced Friday in Lancaster County to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the December 2014 death of Nicole Mathewson, 32.

Moore also was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in consecutive prison terms for related counts including burglary, robbery, theft and criminal conspiracy.

Family and friends of the Brownstown Elementary School teacher spoke about their loss, but some said they had forgiven Moore or were struggling to do so. Moore apologized in court and said, “I appreciate the forgiveness.”

Moore’s teenage co-defendant, who was 16 at the time of the killing, is scheduled for trial in April and won’t face the death penalty because of his age.

Prosecutors alleged that the two, who didn’t know Mathewson, took her car keys, debit card and card PIN before fleeing in her car and later used the card to withdraw $500 from her bank account.

Judge David L. Ashworth said he was “in awe of those able to forgive the defendant.” During testimony, a portrait of Mathewson laughing was prominently displayed, facing the defendant.

“You took the life of somebody who mattered,” said Karen Mathewson, the victim’s sister. “Someone who made a difference.”

The victim’s father, Mark Mathewson, read an obituary, saying he wanted the defendant to know “what you took away from the world.”

“It’s hard for me to understand evil. You are evil,” he said. “You had a pregnant girlfriend. Why would you jeopardize that? I feel sorry for her and your young child.”

Defense attorney Jeff Conrad said in a statement that attorneys in a capital case were “duty bound to save the life of the defendant” and “today, we accomplished that task.”

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