By Marjorie Nesin
---- — The last suspect to face charges in the 1976 Pike Funeral Home killing of Eleanor Wadsworth pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter Monday and will be handed his sentence from a Lawrence Superior Court judge today.
Norman Pike — now 55, but who was then the 19-year-old grandson of the funeral home’s owner at the time — entered the plea for manslaughter just moments before his first-degree murder trial stemming from the reopened Gloucester “cold case” was set to begin Monday yesterday.
“They were in court today, and he said he wanted to change his plea,” said District Attorney spokeswoman Carrie Kimball Monahan. “It’s his right to change his plea at any time.”
At a 9 a.m. sentencing hearing in Lawrence Superior Court today, the victim’s family is expected to give their impact statements to the court before a judge decides on the sentence.
Manslaughter carries a sentence of between eight and 251/2 years in prison in Massachusetts. By pleading guilty to the lesser crime of manslaughter, Pike would rule out the potential of a first-degree murder conviction from a jury.
Pike, who has been in custody since Gloucester police reopened the case and arrested him in 2010 in San Francisco, was supposed to face trial in March. That date was bumped back when his defense attorney, Thomas Ford, reported that Pike was suffering from a case of internal bleeding.
On the December 1976 day that funeral home manager Wadsworth was shot three times in the head, Pike had allegedly entered the building with two other men to steal $1,400 from a second-floor safe.
Because the murder was committed while the perpetrators were committing another felony — robbery — they were charged with first-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The man police believe fired the shots that killed Wadsworth, Richard “Josh” Kennedy, died in Florida in 2003 before the case was reopened.
The third man charged in the case, Kevin Ireland, walked free in March 2012, after pleading guilty to a lesser charge of breaking and entering and also agreeing to cooperate with police against Pike.
At age 56, Ireland was sentenced in Salem Superior Court to six to seven years in prison, but with just two years to serve and the rest suspended for two years as a condition of his probation. He was able to walk free with credit for time he had already served in Middleton Jail awaiting trial.
Pike, meanwhile, had left the state for California days after the killing. He fought extradition from California, where he was living under the alias Dan Franklin when police arrested him in 2010.
The funeral home, now known as Pike-Grondin, continues to operate at 61 Middle St.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.