Thomas Mortimer IV is seated during his hearing at Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn, Mass., Wednesday Oct. 3, 2012. Mortimer plead guilty to the first-degree murder of his wife, mother-in-law and two young children after an argument over a bounced check. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. (AP Photo/Boston Herald, Patrick Whittemore, POOL)
WOBURN, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts man who stabbed and beat his wife and mother-in-law to death in their home and then turned on his two young children has begun serving a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Thomas Mortimer IV was scheduled to go on trial next week on four counts of first-degree murder. He abruptly changed the plea of not guilty he entered more than two years ago as Thursday approached. That day marks his ninth wedding anniversary to Laura Stone Mortimer.
He was immediately sentenced to life in prison without parole for slaying his mother-in-law, Ellen Stone; his wife; and their two children, 2-year-old Charlotte and 4-year-old Thomas Mortimer V, nicknamed Finn.
Prosecutors say Mortimer killed the victims between late June 14 and early June 15, 2010 — shortly after his parents left their home after babysitting his two children. They described in court a gruesome attack that left his wife with dozens of stab wounds as well as a broken nose from a frying pan. Authorities say Finn watched as the killings took place.
"If redemption is even possible for you in the face of these atrocities, you have taken the first step in that direction by accepting responsibility and pleading guilty and admitting these horrendous crimes," Woburn Superior Court Judge S. Jane Haggerty said while sentencing Mortimer on Wednesday.
Defense attorney Denise Regan said Mortimer chose to plead guilty and accept the maximum sentence under Massachusetts laws because he accepts responsibility for his actions and wanted to spare others the trauma of a trial.
Mortimer was pushed to plead guilty because there's overwhelming evidence against him, including notes he left at the scene and admissions he made to his parents over the telephone shortly after he was arrested, District Attorney Gerry Leone said.
Still, the judge said the plea has spared the family and friends of the victims, Mortimer's parents, and those who responded to the crime scene "from re-telling and reliving the unimaginable and gruesome details of the massacre of your family."
In a note, Mortimer said he flew into a rage after he and his wife argued over a bounced check he sent to the Internal Revenue Service.
"Ultimately, I did these horrible things because I could not cope with the responsibilities I took upon myself. I was too cavalier with life, especially others' lives," he said. "I do have remorse with what I have done. I wonder what life would be like if I did not chicken out."
Prosecutors said emergency responders found the victims' bodies in pools of blood after Mortimer's sister-in-law, Deborah Stone Sochat, reported that her mother and sister had not answered repeated phone calls. The children's throats were slashed. Mortimer's mother-in-law was killed near the doorway, apparently as she tried to flee the home, Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Lynch said in court.
Mortimer, who grew up in Avon, Conn., was caught the next day in northwestern Massachusetts.
He indicated in the written confession he left behind that he was in turmoil after the killings.
"I can't think of much else. Actually I can think of a lot. ... Ashamed, frightened, relieved, surprised that I murdered my family. Disgusted with myself," he said in the note.
Stone Sochat gave a tearful statement Wednesday, calling her mother and sister her best friends.
"Two years ago my family suffered an enormous tragedy. The losses of our loved ones can hardly be expressed through words," she said. "It is difficult to find joy when the sadness is so overwhelming."
Mortimer's attorney also read a statement from his parents, who spoke of their lost grandchildren and said their son was plagued by depression.
"We know that our son Thomas has done something horrible, but he has been the nicest, most compassionate person we have ever known," they said. "No one who's ever known him can imagine him doing what he's done."
Mortimer was expressionless and did not make a statement in court, where wore handcuffs and foot shackles. He simply confirmed to the judge that he discussed in detail with his attorney the consequences of changing his pleas and he was willingly taking responsibility for his actions.
Rodrique Ngowi can be reached at www.twitter.com/ngowi