SUNBURY - Miranda and Elytte Barbour months ago told police they committed murder, luring their victim through an online personal ad before strangling and stabbing the married man to death.

On Tuesday, they confessed to a county judge.

As part of an agreement with the prosecution, the Barbours pleaded guilty before Judge Charles H. Saylor to second-degree murder, aggravated assault, robbery and possessing an instrument of a crime. In exchange they've agreed to serve life sentences without parole, avoiding the possibility of the death penalty.

The pleas came less than 30 minutes apart during separate hearings at the Northumberland County Courthouse. Neither had much to say outside of a simple "yes" or "no" to Saylor's questions, Elytte Barbour adding "sir" when answering the judge.

"Summed up, yes," Miranda Barbour answered Saylor after having been asked if District Attorney Ann Targonski's recitation of the crime was accurate.

Sentencing same time

The Sheriff's Office said the couple, newlyweds at the time of the killing, were kept apart inside the courthouse holding area, not given so much as a chance to make eye contact. They'll be together, however, for sentencing Sept. 18. Targonski requested the single hearing to allow Troy LaFerrara's relatives the opportunity to address his killers at the same time.

Elytte Barbour, 22, cooperated with prosecutors and was prepared to testify if his wife were to go to trial, defense attorney James Best told the court Tuesday. Miranda Barbour, 19, had pinned the Nov. 11 homicide of Troy LaFerrara on herself, never implicating her husband in police interviews. She confessed first on Dec. 3. Three days later, her husband incriminated himself, saying they wanted to murder someone together. Miranda Barbour later discussed her husband's role with reporter Francis Scarcella of The Daily Item.

Back to 'serial' claims

With a high-profile trial now avoided, Sunbury Patrolman Travis Bremigen said Tuesday his department will have time to devote to following up on Miranda Barbour's claims of serial killing. She told The Daily Item she began killing at 13 years old when she joined a satanic cult. She claims to have murdered in Alaska, California, North Carolina and Texas, and that she racked up so many victims she stopped counting at 22. If given a map, she said she could pinpoint the bodies.

The lone victim to date that any authorities anywhere have confirmed is LaFerrara.

The murder

Miranda Barbour reportedly made money as an online escort. Her husband told police she didn't have sex with her clients, but she painted a different picture concerning LaFerrara, 42, of Port Trevorton. She told The Daily Item she agreed to have sex with him for $100.

They met in person on Nov. 11 in the parking lot of the Susquehanna Valley Mall. LaFerrara entered the passenger side of Miranda Barbour's Honda CR-V, and she drove to Sunbury. Police said the soon-to-be victim was clueless that Elytte Barbour lay in wait in the back. On his wife's command he sprung forward, wrapping a cord around LaFerrara's neck while Miranda Barbour stabbed him 20 times. They stole his wallet and dumped his body in a back alley in Sunbury, police said.

A black cord was discovered with LaFerrara when his body was found. The knife would be recovered from 101 N. Water St., Selinsgrove, where the Barbours were staying. They had recently moved to Pennsylvania from North Carolina.

Ed Greco and Paige Rosini, Miranda Barbour's defense attorneys, were unsuccessful in attempts to nullify use of the knife at trial, citing incorrect references to the Barbours' home address in a search warrant. The attorneys also were unsuccessful in having their client's video-taped police confession tossed.

Chance for appeal

The Barbours' alleged actions, had they been proven at trial, would have fit the definition of first-degree murder under Pennsylvania law, in that they carried out an "intentional killing." But Targonski said she offered the second-degree pleas knowing there was a better chance the defendants would agree and because the penalty of life in prison without parole is the same.

The definition for second degree is a homicide that happens when the defendant is the principal or accomplice in the perpetration of a specific felony, such as robbery. The Barbour case also fit that definition, sometimes called "felony murder," Targonski said. For a person to be guilty of second-degree murder, the killing can take place during the felony, during the attempt to commit the felony or in the flight afterwards.

While first-degree homicide is the only one that provides for the death penalty, those appeals can go on for 30 years, Targonski noted. With the plea, the Barbours have "limited" grounds for appeal. They could argue that the court doesn't have jurisdiction, that the sentence is illegal, that their attorney did not provide competent counsel or that the defendant's plea was not "knowingly, intelligently or voluntarily" made.

Targonski classified the chance for success of such appeals as "extremely limited."