Kevin Ireland, one of three suspects charged in 2010 in the 1976 Pike Funeral Home slaying of Eleanor Wadsworth, has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of breaking and entering in connection with the case.
The murder charge against him has been dropped in exchange for his cooperation against Norman Pike, one of his alleged accomplices, according to the Essex County District Attorney's office.
Ireland, 56, 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.
Since Ireland, now 56, was arrested two years to the day from Monday's hearing, he was able to walk free with credit for the time he had served in Middleton Jail awaiting trial.
Ireland, who was 21 at the time of the murder, allegedly went with Pike, now 54, and Richard Kennedy, who has since died, and broke into Pike's Funeral Home on Dec. 2, 1976, to steal $1,400 from the safe. Pike is the grandson of the funeral home's owner at the time.
Wadsworth, who managed the funeral home for the elder Pike for years, reportedly walked in on the burglars and was shot three times, allegedly by Kennedy, authorities have said.
Ireland remained in the Gloucester area, but Pike left for California days after the murder.
The case remained unresolved for more than three decades, but in 2009 the Gloucester Police Department reopened the case, under then-chief of detectives Michael Lane — now the interim police chief — and Detective Steve Mizzoni.
Pike and Ireland were arrested March 12, 2010. Because the murder was committed while the perpetrators were committing another felony — robbery — Pike and Ireland were charged with first-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison in Massachusetts.
Pike fought extradition from California, where he had been living for years under the name of Dan Franklin. He was later extradited and returned to Massachusetts and Gloucester, and both men were indicted May 26, 2010.
Carrie Kimball-Monihan, speaking Thursday for the Essex County District Attorney's office, said Pike's trial is not scheduled to begin until the fall. While Ireland has agreed to cooperate, Monihan said Ireland may not be called to testify. She said prosecutors will decide closer to the actual date who is called to speak at the trial.
Ireland appeared in court Monday for the continuation of his motion to suppress the evidence of his confession to police the day of his arrest.
Ireland's lawyers were arguing that Ireland was coerced into confessing by police who intimidated him.
Ireland's lawyers also said that his mental state at the time of the questioning left him vulnerable to confessing falsely in response to police questioning.
But in the end, Ireland agreeing to plead guilty on the lesser charge.
Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or firstname.lastname@example.org.