An avowed satanist’s girlfriend, accused of killing one man and helping to bury the body of another in a suburban North Carolina backyard, pleaded guilty Thursday to her part in the crimes.
Authorities who accused Amber Nicole Burch, 27, first found themselves investigating a link to possible satanic ritual and sacrifice after the bones of two missing men, Joshua Wetzler, 32, and Tommy Welch, 31, were discovered in 2014 behind the red-bricked Clemmons home where Burch had lived with her boyfriend, Pazuzu Illah Algarad, and his mother.
Prosecutors charged Burch and Algarad — the former John Larson, a “weird goth kid” in the words of a former classmate, who had dropped out of school following his parents’ divorce and legally changed his name to mimic that of a demon in The Exorcist — with the murders.
A third person, Krystal Nicole Matlock, 30, was charged with accessory after the fact to murder.
On Thursday, Burch pleaded guilty in Forsyth County Superior Court to second-degree murder, armed robbery and accessory after the fact to murder, reports the Winston-Salem Journal.
In court, a Forsyth County detective said Burch shot Welch twice in the back of the head with a .22 rifle in October 2009 as he sat on a couch in the home. Algarad himself shot Wetzler three months earlier using the same weapon, prosecutors said, adding that Burch assisted in burying both bodies.
An autopsy showed Wetzer had been shot three times in the head and several times in the torso.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
A neighbor previously told PEOPLE that Algarad had grown up in the suburban house on Knob Hill Drive with his parents.
“They seemed like a regular family with a young boy,” former neighbor Keith Bryson said, “but over the years the boy went astray,” developing a fascination for evil that he accented with a split tongue and teeth filed into spikes.
“He had a pentagram and ‘666’ tattoos all over his body,” Bryson said after Burch and Algarad were arrested. “He told me he practiced satanism.”
As part of an investigation into an unrelated criminal case, Algarad earlier told psychiatrists he engaged in religious practices that required a monthly animal sacrifice.
Police who entered the murder scene in 2014 to investigate found a home then filled with garbage, mold and animal feces. Algarad already was on their radar, having been charged as an accessory after the fact when he allegedly allowed the assailant in an involuntary shooting death to stay at the house in 2010. The next year, 2011, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault after choking his mother, Cynthia Lawson.
Following his arrest for the murders, Algarad killed himself in jail in October 2015 before the charges against him could be resolved, according to WGHP MyFox8.
Burch was sentenced under a plea agreement to three consecutive sentences in prison ranging from a total of 30 years and eight months to 39 years and two months.
Matlock, the third co-defendant, is due in court next month.