James W. Howard of Lockport pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter Tuesday for the brutal stabbing in October of a Niagara Falls man whose remains were found seven weeks later.
Howard, 28, of Weld Street, entered his plea after State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. warned him what would happen if he went to trial on a second-degree murder charge and was convicted in the death of Daniel F. Sparks, 44.
"In all likelihood, I would give the maximum penalty, which is 25 years to life," Kloch told Howard.
Kloch didn't say what sentence he will impose for the manslaughter plea. The sentencing options for Howard, a third-time felon, require Kloch to choose between eight and 25 years. Kloch will make his decision Aug. 8.
"We thought it was an appropriate disposition that resolved the case for the family," Niagara County Assistant District Attorney Doreen M. Hofmann said.
Members of Sparks' family were in the courtroom Tuesday but declined to be interviewed.
Sparks' decomposed body was found Dec. 6. His family had reported him missing Nov. 1. Police and prosecutors narrowed the date of his death to between Oct. 14 and 16. The last time anyone saw him alive was Oct. 14, but phone records showed his cellphone was last used two days later, Second Assistant District Attorney Mary Jean Bowman said last week.
On Aug. 9, Kloch will sentence Carl M. Hosmer, 29, of Niagara Falls, who pleaded guilty Wednesday to the same manslaughter charge. Hosmer was promised a sentence of no more than 18 years in prison.
Hosmer said in court that he was high on the drug K2 and watched as Howard lured Sparks, 44, into the brush behind the Cataract Steel plant on Mackenna Avenue and "went haywire on him," stabbing Sparks repeatedly. Hosmer said he stabbed Sparks once himself.
The autopsy showed Sparks was stabbed 27 times in the torso and upper legs.
Bowman said the motive for the attack is not certain, but she said Sparks had complained to police that Howard had stolen his welfare benefit card. Howard was not charged in that matter.
Howard's criminal record includes felony convictions for drug possession and attempted burglary. At one time, Hoffmann said, Howard and Hosmer lived with Sparks in the latter's apartment.