Tamara Loraine Tucker and her longtime boyfriend, Eric Duane Newman, boarded the vessel one day after her 50th birthday
The birthday vacation for Tamara Loraine Tucker and her longtime boyfriend, Eric Duane Newman, promised a round-trip voyage aboard the Carnival Elation cruise ship from Florida to the Bahamas.
The pair boarded in Jacksonville on Jan. 18, 2018, one day after Tucker turned 50, and checked into their shared cabin on the vessel’s 13th deck.
Tucker never reached their destination.
Before the clock struck midnight, the two got in an argument inside their cabin, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Around 12:15 a.m., “Newman physically attacked Tucker, and strangled her by placing both of his hands around her neck,” said the statement. In the process, he pushed his girlfriend over the balcony railing, causing Tucker to fall to her death two stories below on the ship’s 11th deck while the boat sailed about 30 miles east of New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
The cause of death was blunt force trauma as a result of the fall.
On Thursday, Newman, 55, of Topeka, Kansas, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder with malice aforethought.
Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE’s free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.
Tucker, a mother and grandmother, spent 10 years as a professor of social work at Park University north of Kansas City, Missouri, “dedicated to public service, teaching and advocating for social justice and safety for those that could not fend for themselves,” her family wrote in her obituary.
She also had served as a program director for the Child Abuse Prevention Association, “where she led policy change on both the state and national level and advanced child education and support,” according to her family.
A former co-worker, Park University assistant professor of social work Leon Probasco, said Tucker “was loved by her students, for whom she was teacher, mentor and advocate,” reported The Stylus, the university’s student newspaper.
“She spoke the truth, even when others were quiet,” he said. “Tamara will live on in the memories and lives she touched. She always signed her emails with ‘Namaste,’ which in Sanskrit means ‘The Spirit in me sees the Spirit in you.’ May this continue to be true with her students, family and friends.”
Sentencing for Newman is set for March 18.