- Associated Press - Monday, April 22, 2019

CHALMETTE, La. (AP) - A former jail guard in Louisiana pleaded guilty Monday to killing his ex-wife with an ax in 2017. The dead woman’s mother, who tried to save her daughter from the attack, faced him in a courtroom and called him a “coward” and an “evil monster.”

Mark Owens, 57, pleaded guilty on Monday in St. Bernard Parish to second-degree murder of 48-year-old Kim Penney. The charge carries a mandatory life sentence.

WVUE-TV reported that the dead woman’s family filled the courtroom, and many members wore shirts demanding justice for her.

“I have to tell you what a coward you are,” Penney’s mother, Peggy Browning, told Owens. “You took her from her children. Who does that but an evil monster?”

Browning also told Owens he will burn in hell, The New Orleans Advocate reported.

Browning and her daughter Dawn Penney wore matching shirts bearing the words “Stop Domestic Violence” and “In Memory of Kim Penney.”

Authorities have said Owens hid under his ex-wife’s house on Sept. 27, 2017, and killed her as she left for work. Browning tried to intervene and he went after her, but she escaped unharmed and called 911 as Owens fled.

Owens had pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of first-degree murder, which carries a possible death penalty, and attempted murder. Trial had been scheduled May 20.

Owens had been released from a mental hospital two days before the killing. According to court records, he had checked into the hospital because he thought his ex-wife was having an affair and he was obsessed with thoughts of killing her and the man, the newspaper reported.

“I’m pleased with the conviction and life sentence. It allows the family to move forward without having to relive this horrible crime at trial,” District Attorney Perry Nicosia said.

Sparing Penney’s family that ordeal played a part in Owens‘ decision to plead guilty to the reduced charge, public defender Cullen Tonry said.

“It’s sad. Nothing positive could come from this,” he said.

Dawn Penney told Owens, “Kim was an awesome person, so strong, loving, giving and faithful. You don’t deserve to breathe the same air as the rest of us, and in fact you will not because you will spend the rest of your life locked up like an animal, under the control of someone else.”

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