- Associated Press - Monday, August 31, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - An Oklahoma appeals court Monday denied a man’s request to withdraw his guilty pleas to three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of two girls and his fiancée in eastern Oklahoma.

The state Court of Criminal Appeals handed down the decision in the case of Kevin Sweat, 29, who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole last year after pleading guilty in the shooting deaths of 11-year-old Skyla Whitaker and 13-year-old Taylor Paschal-Placker in June 2008 and the slaying of his fiancée, 23-year-old Ashley Taylor, in 2011.

In handing down the decision, the five-judge appellate court unanimously rejected claims by Sweat that he did not knowingly and voluntarily plead guilty to the murder charges. The court ruled that, based upon “his multiple confessions and forensic evidence linking him to the murders,” Sweat’s guilty pleas were “intelligently entered.”

Sweat’s guilty pleas “represented a voluntary and intelligent choice among the alternative courses of action” available to him, the court’s 33-page opinion states. Okfuskee County prosecutors agreed to drop plans to seek the death penalty in exchange for Sweat’s guilty pleas.

Among the many documents prepared by Sweat’s defense attorneys that he signed before pleading guilty in July 2014 was one in which Sweat agreed that his statements to investigators, testimony during preliminary hearings and various witnesses and exhibits produced by prosecutors proved his guilt in all three deaths.

Sweat also claimed that his life prison sentence is excessive and that defense attorneys were ineffective in representing him, allegations the court also rejected.

Sweat’s current defense attorney, Katrina Conrad-Legler of the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment on the ruling.

The girls, who were close friends, were killed as they walked down a rural road near Weleetka after the two had spent the night at the Placker family home. An autopsy performed by the Office of the State Medical Examiner found they had each been shot multiple times with two different weapons.

Their deaths remained unsolved until Sweat was questioned about the death of his fiancée three years later. Taylor went missing in July 2011 after telling her parents she was eloping with Sweat. Investigators eventually found “severely fragmented” human bones in an ash pile on Sweat’s father’s property along with prescription eyeglasses “consistent” with a pair belonging to Taylor.

The cases were ultimately connected after officers investigating Taylor’s death found shell casings on Sweat’s father’s property with markings that matched those found at the scene of the girls’ 2008 slayings.

Sweat finally acknowledged shooting the girls during a video-recorded statement to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in September 2011.

Sweat said he had stopped his vehicle on the rural road when he saw the two girls. He said that he “just panicked” and opened fire with a .40-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistol, then shot them again with a .22-caliber pistol.

“I’m guessing they were monsters,” he said. “They were coming after me.”

Sweat is currently incarcerated at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

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