By KATHLEEN HENNESSEY â€“ 4 hours ago
LAS VEGAS (AP) â€” Two former bodybuilding stars have entered guilty pleas in connection with the death of their personal assistant, just days before their high-profile murder trial had been set to begin.
Craig Titus, 43, pleaded guilty late Friday to second-degree murder, kidnapping and arson in the December 2005 slaying of 28-year-old Melissa James.
The woman's body was found in the trunk of a burned-out luxury sedan in the desert outside Las Vegas.
Titus' wife, Kelly Ryan, 35, pleaded guilty to arson and entered an Alford plea to battery with a deadly weapon resulting in significant bodily harm. The Alford plea means Ryan didn't admit guilt but acknowledged that enough evidence exists to convict her.
Both Titus and Ryan were originally charged with murder with a deadly weapon in the case.
"We've always believed that Craig Titus was responsible for Melissa's death and Kelly was primarily involved in covering up the death," said Deputy District Attorney Robert Daskas. "Whether we obtained those results by a jury verdict or guilty plea was unimportant to us."
Sentencing was set for July 18. Titus faces 15 to 55 years in prison. Each of Ryan's charges carry sentences of two to 15 years in prison, or the judge can give her probation.
Titus accepted the deal, in part, to ease the burden on his wife, his attorney said.
"He decided to accept responsibility so as not to expose his wife to first-degree-murder charges, which could mean life without parole," Marc Saggese said. "He could not accept that."
Titus is a 1996 bodybuilding champion and Mr. Olympia competitor, and Ryan a past Fitness America and Fitness International winner.
They initially claimed that James died of an overdose. They told police they panicked, burned her body in the car and then left town because they were worried publicity about her death would hurt their careers. They were arrested Dec. 23, 2005, in Stoughton, Mass.
Prosecutors accused them of using a stun gun, administering morphine or a related drug, and asphyxiating or suffocating James with a fabric or wire around her neck. However, the cause of her death was ruled "undetermined" by the coroner.
The couple told police that they took James into their home to manage a fitness clothing business they wanted to start, but evicted her after they said they discovered she was looting their bank accounts.
Titus also told police he had an affair with James that Ryan didn't know about.
The couple acknowledged use of steroids and claimed James also had a history of drug use.