A former Independence pastor who preached at the memorial service of a murdered congregation member pleaded guilty Wednesday to being the killer.
Still unclear, however, is whether the victim’s widow played a role in her husband’s death.
David Love had pleaded not guilty in January to first-degree murder, and his trial had been scheduled to begin in December.
But on Wednesday morning, Love pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the 2010 shooting death of Randy Stone, an Independence insurance agent. Jackson Count Circuit Court Judge Robert M. Schieber then sentenced Love to life in prison.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced Love’s pleas during a subsequent press conference outside the Jackson County Courthouse Annex in Independence.
“Justice is served,” Baker said. “But justice is served with a life sentence. We cannot bring (Stone) back.”
Clara Koehler, Stone’s mother, said she was satisfied with Love’s life sentence.
“I don’t believe in the death penalty,” Koehler said. “But he is not going to be able to roam the streets.
“Randy can’t roam them.”
The pleas brought a sudden end to a case that had troubled friends of the Stone family and fascinated television news magazine producers across the country. What remains unknown is how Love’s plea affects the scheduled trial next April of Teresa Stone, Randy Stone’s widow.
Teresa Stone pleaded not guilty in June to charges that she helped plan the killing.
Baker declined to comment specifically on that case Wednesday. Although prosecutors have not volunteered the evidence that led them to Love, Stone family members have pointed to an approximately 10-year affair between Love and Teresa Stone.
Molly Hastings, Love’s attorney, said her client received a plea offer last week.
“We had a short window of opportunity to consider it,” Hastings said. “This plea offer opened up the opportunity for parole and eventual release.”
Though Love’s life sentence represents about 251/2 years in prison, an exception can be available for those of a certain age, Hastings said. Love, who is now 51, could reach his 70th birthday having served about 40 percent of his sentence, she said. He then could be eligible for parole under that exception, said Hastings.
Love’s decision to plead guilty was not contingent upon him testifying against Teresa Stone, Hastings said.
“He is not anticipated to testify against her,” Hastings said.
Kevin D. Harrell, Jackson County chief deputy prosecutor, said the plea brings closure to Stone’s family.
“If we don’t have to have a trial and bring up all the old memories and go through that, it is a very good outcome,” he said. “At the end of the day, Mr. Love took accountability for his action.”
Love said nothing unusual in his Wednesday morning court appearance, Harrell said.
“Mr. Love sat in the witness stand and answered his attorney’s questions as to whether he understood the charges and the ramifications of not going to trial,” Harrell said. “He answered all in the affirmative and took responsibility for his actions.
“He said he understood when it occurred, and where it occurred, and that he did it.”
Watching the pleas and sentencing in Independence were Stone’s two children, Michael and Miranda; his sister, Shannon Bell, and Koehler, Stone’s mother.
“I was kind of stunned and I don’t know if I have taken it all in yet,” Koehler said.
“I always knew in my gut that he was the one who had done it, but it was just kind of rough. I just know that this part is over with.
“It would have been so much worse for it to go to trial.”
Teresa Stone’s lawyer was unavailable for comment.
Independence police found Stone’s body in his Noland Road insurance office on March 31, 2010.
Love, then pastor of Stone’s church, New Hope Baptist Church at 18000 E. Lexington Road, praised Stone after his death.
“He had this magnanimity, a way of drawing people close to him,” Love told The Kansas City Star.
Love also preached at Stone’s memorial service.
“We sit here and we weep not just because of the separation from our loved one, but because of all the questions that death brings, questions like ‘Why?’ ‘Why him?’ ‘Why now?’” Love told those at the service.
“Without answers, death seems so cold.”
Stone’s friends and family members had described him as a passionate father, enthusiastic church member and realistic optimist who resolved to forge onward despite setbacks that included the sudden death of his father in 1993 from a heart attack at age 52.
After graduating from Kansas City’s Northeast High School in 1986, Stone joined the U.S. Marine Corps and served nearly four years, leaving in March 1990. That October, he married Teresa Greenawalt, whom Stone had met when they were growing up near 12th Street and Drury Avenue in the Northeast area of Kansas City.
Stone also joined New Hope Baptist Church, where Love arrived as minister in 1999.
Stone drove one of the church’s Sunday school bus routes and had traveled with his family to Argentina to help an associate establish a church there.
Yet Stone also had been going through a period of personal transition, family members said. At time of his death, he was in the process of setting himself up as an independent insurance agent. He also had left New Hope, apparently upset that funds raised for specific projects may not have gone to those projects, according to his mother.
Family members have said they believe Stone did not know of his wife’s alleged affair with Love. In a self-help manual, Stone listed Love as the most influential person in his life, and he sometimes attended weekly counseling sessions with him.
Soon after Stone’s death, authorities served a search warrant at Love’s Independence church.
Love later resigned as pastor and moved to South Carolina, where he worked as a truck driver. Authorities arrested him there last November after a Jackson County grand jury indicted Love on charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action.
Harrell praised the work of the Independence police.
“This is a tremendously difficult case for the family members involved,” said Tom Dailey, Independence police chief. “We are glad we are able to bring some closure to it.
“I hope every day he sits in prison for the rest of his life he thinks about the devastation he has brought to all the family members.”