DALLAS - A man who killed his ex-girlfriend while on parole for two murders pleaded guilty to her slaying Tuesday in exchange for 50 years in prison.
Darrell Bernard Billingslea met Jessica Rae Lewalling on a telephone chat line after he was released from prison in June 2007. They struck up a friendship and became romantically involved.
Then, in January 2008, Billingslea killed Lewalling - possibly out of jealousy - at her Lake Highlands apartment when the 23-year-old woman and her new boyfriend allowed him to spend the night because he had nowhere else to go.
Lewalling's aunt, Tracy Bewley, said after a court hearing that it was "gratifying" to hear Billingslea, now 38, admit the crime. But Lewalling's relatives said they don't understand why a man with Billingslea's violent past was paroled.
"I'm just at a loss as to why another life was lost," said Lewalling's grandfather, John Lewalling. "One murder isn't excusable. But after two, why would you ever get out?"
Billingslea was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing a 16-year-old Oak Cliff pizzeria employee, Derrick Lamar Mathis, during a 1990 robbery.
At that trial, Billingslea rushed toward a witness and kicked a bailiff. His relatives and officers from nearby courts joined in the skirmish. After the courtroom drama, Billingslea pleaded guilty to two charges of aggravated assault of a peace officer. He received two 10-year sentences to serve at the same time as the one for killing Mathis. Then, while Billingslea was in prison, police in Ellis County linked him to the slaying of Don Bass, 43, who was killed in October 1989, prosecutors said. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison to be served concurrently with the other sentences.
Billingslea shot and killed Bass, who played professional football for five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and the New Orleans Saints, after Bass told police to search Billingslea's motel room for drugs.
Dallas County prosecutor Jennifer Bennett said Billingslea must serve the remaining 11 years of his original murder sentence before he begins the 50-year sentence.
He is unlikely to be paroled.
"I'm glad he'll never get out again," Bennett said.
Prosecutors could not seek the death penalty because the slaying did not meet the standards for capital murder - a murder that happens while committing another felony. But that does not include aggravated assault.
Billingslea's attorney, Kobby Warren, said his client sufferers from schizophrenia, which runs in his family. Warren said he sees a correlation between the illness and violent tendencies.
"He's sick, but he's not sick enough. There's no place to put him but prison," Warren said. "Unfortunately, some are caught in that middle range where they're not sick enough to be sent to a hospital or excuse their behavior because they do know right from wrong."
Lewalling, who worked at a Dave and Buster's restaurant, was ready to start classes at El Centro College. She wanted to study social work, her family said, and possibly become a probation officer. They said she had been involved in prison ministry work since junior high and always wanted to help others.
The night Billingslea killed Lewalling, he called her asking for a place to stay. Billingslea and her boyfriend, Demetrius Cooksey, at first said no but then agreed.
Not long after he arrived at Lewalling's apartment near Skillman Street and Royal Lane, Billingslea attacked Cooksey with what may have been a screwdriver. He suffered minor puncture wounds.
Billingslea then chased Lewalling, and Cooksey ran outside for help. Someone outside called 911.
Billingslea then walked outside, put on his jacket and walked away.
Cooksey went inside and found Lewalling on the floor, dead.
A kitchen knife was by her side. She had dialed 911 on her phone but never hit send.