A 46-year-old Bethlehem man has pleaded guilty but mentally ill to first-degree murder in the June 2011 slaying of his girlfriend, whose dismembered body was found by police after a friend reported that the victim had not shown up for work.
William J. Ward, who lived with the victim at 1860 Cloverdale Road, Bethlehem, entered the plea today before Lehigh County Judge James T. Anthony, according to a news release issued by the Lehigh County District Attorney’s office.
Ward was charged in the death of Trisha Sadler, 29, whose body was found on June 17, 2012, in her home. Ward was taken into custody after a five-hour standoff with Bethlehem police.
Ward will be sentenced to life in prison without parole, the DA’s office said.
Lehigh County District Attorney James B. Martin said the defense has an expert who said that Ward suffers from a severe mental illness, which is the basis for the plea.
Under Pennsylvania law, a defendant may be found “guilty but mentally ill” if a judge finds, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty of an offense, was mentally ill at the time of the commission of the offense and was not legally insane at the time of the offense.
A judge can accept a plea of guilty but mentally ill after the judge examines reports of a defendant’s mental state, evaluates evidence and is satisfied that the defendant was mentally ill at the time of the offense.
The homicide was investigated by Bethlehem police and the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Homicide Task Force.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Charles F. Gallagher III gave the following summary of the prosecution’s case:
- At about 10:38 a.m. on June 17, 2011, Bethlehem police received a call from a coworker of Sadler who reported that Sadler had not been at work for two days. The coworker said it was unusual for Sadler not to report for work.
- The coworker also told police that Sadler told her that her boyfriend of nine years, William Ward, had threatened to kill her and that Sadler told her to call the police if she did not come to work.
- Sadler had told the coworker that she was in the process of ending her relationship with Ward because of physical abuse, according to the coworker.
- The coworker told police that she tried to contact Sadler but could not reach her. Police responded to Sadler’s house to check on her welfare and saw her vehicle in the driveway.
- Police knocked on the front and back doors and announced their presence. Police calls to Ward’s and Sadler’s cell phones were not answered.
- A police officer looked into the house through an open window, and a man charged at him and swung an unidentified object. The Bethlehem Police Department’s Emergency Response Team was summoned, and Ward was repeatedly asked to exit the house.
- After an extended period, Response Team members entered the house, and Ward yelled at them, “You won’t take me alive.” Ward sprayed one officer with pepper spray and fled deeper into the house. Police deployed gas canisters into the house.
- Ward hurled glass vases and metal weights at officers and then barricaded himself in a first-floor bathroom. Ward then moved to the attic, and police deployed more gas canisters.
- Ward was Tasered at least three times and was struck with non-lethal bean bag rounds before he was taken into custody.
- Police observed a significant amount of blood and large black trash bags, which contained the victim, in a bedroom.
- Sadler was pronounced dead, and the death was ruled a homicide. An autopsy indicated that the cause of death was a stab wound to the neck and that the victim’s body had been severed into 14 pieces.