ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — William Patrick Smith, 23, pleaded no contest Tuesday to second-degree murder in the beating death and burning of 39-year-old Christian Payton at an abandoned convent in Taos last year, The Taos News reported.
As part of a plea agreement with the state, prosecutors dropped charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, arson, conspiracy to commit arson and escape from jail, according to The News.
Smith was sentenced to the maximum term of 15 years in prison, the paper reported. Had he been convicted of the original charges he could have gotten life plus 30 years behind bars.
Smith and 28-year-old Deborah Jaramillo were indicted last November for beating Payton to death, throwing him down a flight of stairs and cutting his face during a fight, The News said.
After Payton was killed, a third suspect identified only as “Cherokee” helped the two in burning the body, and the abandoned building was engulfed in flames, investigators have said. It was two weeks before Payton’s remains were located in the debris.
Jaramillo remains held in the Taos County Adult Detention Center where she awaits a hearing on her competency to stand trial, according to The News. Investigators continue to search for the third suspect.