RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Moments before a jury was to decide his fate, Michael Solomon pled guilty to 2nd degree murder, felony child neglect and improper disposal of a body. He agreed to serve 40 years in prison and will be 69-years-old by the time he gets out. The plea deal was just the latest twist in a long and winding tragedy that began July 20th.
Solomon's attorney Mary K. Martin says the deal was the best option for her client.
"I was hoping for quite frankly some sort of a manslaughter conviction. I think the Commonwealth was hoping for a first degree conviction and sometimes that's where the compromise occurs. I think this was the best resolution for him and he understands the serious consequences of what he did and recognizes that punishment was going to be part of this," she said.
For the very first time on Tuesday, through sobs, Solomon told his side of the story. He told jurors that he and Claiborne were in a violent fight over money and accusations of infidelity. He says Claiborne grabbed a knife, they struggled and he ended up stabbing her three times in the neck. Then he said he panicked, abandoned her 3-year-old son in a parking lot and dumped her body in the James River.
"We wouldn't be here it either one of these people had done what their instincts told them to do which was leave," said Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring.
He said he offered the deal to ensure a conviction with a lengthy sentence.
"The issue was going to be was it first degree or second degree. somebody in the back was going to contemplate self defense and I did not want to run the risk that the jurors compromised lower than second degree," Herring said.
Claiborne's family accepted the plea bargain, but indicated they didn't believe all of Solomon's story.
"I'm just glad that most of its over with. I miss my daughter everyday no other way I can put it. I'm just having a hard time with it," said James Booker, Claiborne's father.
Darren Fenceroy still faces trial, accused of helping Solomon while on the run.
"His (Solomon's) sister going to miss him, his momma going to miss him, his daughter going to miss him," said Fenceroy.
As for those accused of helping Solomon cover up his crime? Herring has a message.
"If I'm one of them I'm not resting too easy at night. When somebody comes to you and says I just committed a felony don't say 'oh man what can I do to help you.' You need to say, "get the hell out of here!" Herring said.
Alphonzo Richardson pled guilty to helping Solomon move Claiborne's body. He has a plea deal. Herring says he's going to re-examine that deal and will charges others if they lied during the trial.