- Associated Press - Thursday, December 14, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A California man pleaded guilty Thursday to three counts of first-degree murder for suffocating his three children and to attempting to kill his wife.

Robert Hodges of West Sacramento will be sentenced Jan. 19 to life in prison without the possibility of parole under a plea agreement with prosecutors. They agreed not to seek the death penalty but could try to execute him if he ever challenges his conviction, according to the plea deal.

In the agreement, Hodges acknowledges suffocating 7-month-old Lucas Hodges on Sept. 13. Then he used a belt to strangle 10-year-old Julie Hodges before eventually strangling 11-year-old Kelvin Hodges, also with a belt, after surprising both older children from behind.

When his wife, Mai Hodges, returned home from work, he also tried to kill her, but she escaped.

Investigators had testified that Robert Hodges, 32, said he was in financial trouble and had considered killing himself and his family for a year before he acted.

Hodges will die in prison, District Attorney Jeff Reisig said.

“Ultimately, the surviving family’s desire for a swift and certain conclusion to this heartbreaking case led us to the conclusion that this resolution was most appropriate,” he said in a statement.

Hodges‘ voice broke as he responded “guilty” to each charge, sighing deeply after the last charge was read, The Sacramento Bee newspaper reported. He also acknowledged three special-circumstance allegations of lying in wait and committing multiple murders.

Mai Hodges sobbed quietly as the charges were read. She had called police after her escape, but Robert Hodges was gone by the time they arrived. He was arrested hours later.

Police have said Mai Hodges did not witness the slayings. Relatives and neighbors said they saw no problems or abuse in the marriage. Police said they had no history of calls to the family’s apartment, and Robert Hodges had no significant criminal record.

Ron Johnson, a supervising deputy public defender, did not immediately return telephone and email messages.

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