Sitting just feet from his grieving wife, Robert Hodges Thursday pleaded guilty to strangling and suffocating the couple’s three young children in the West Sacramento apartment in September.
He also admitted to trying to kill his wife, Mai Hodges, who sat in the front row of a courtroom Thursday with a group of family and friends.
Hodges, 32, will spend the rest of his days in state prison. Sentencing is set for Jan. 19 in Yolo Superior Court.
An ashen Hodges, wearing a full growth of beard, his shoulders slumped, sat with defense counsel Yolo County Deputy Public Defender Ron Johnson as Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig announced that a plea agreement had been reached.
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“This is a plea of guilty to all charges,” Reisig told Yolo Superior Court Judge David Rosenberg, calling the agreement “carefully orchestrated” in consult with the state Attorney General’s office.
Thursday was to be Hodges’ arraignment ahead of a future trial date on the charges: three counts of murder in the deaths of his children, Kelvin, 11, Julie, 9, and Lucas, 7 months; attempted murder in his attack on Mai Hodges; plus special circumstances for committing multiple murders, lying in wait and using a weapon – his belt – to end his two older children’s lives.
Mai Hodges sobbed quietly as Rosenberg read each of the counts. Robert Hodges’ voice broke as he responded “guilty,” to the allegations, finally heaving a deep sigh after the last of the charges were read.
A deal had been in the works for weeks, said Johnson, who said he approached Yolo County prosecutors with the offer of life without parole.
“His main goal was not to put the family through more than they’ve already been through,” Johnson said of Hodges following the morning hearing.
Hodges, through his attorney, declined a request for an interview Thursday. He remains held without bail at Yolo County Jail pending his January sentencing date.
Mai Hodges left the courthouse with family and friends without speaking with reporters. Reisig, likewise, did not speak with reporters, but in a statement released through his office, said Hodges will “die in prison.”
“Ultimately, the surviving family’s desire for a swift and certain conclusion to this heartbreaking case led us to the conclusion that this resolution was most appropriate,” the statement read.
Hodges’ killings of his infant son and his two older children on Sept. 13 shocked West Sacramento. In preliminary hearing testimony, investigators who responded to the horrific scene and interrogated Hodges said he told them he was in deep financial crisis when he first suffocated his youngest child, then strangled the two older children over the space of several hours, surprising each of the older children from behind and choking them with a leather belt. He then planned to kill his wife and end his own life.
His reasoning for the slayings, investigators said, was to spare the family financial hardship. Hodges said he had taken breaks on his portable tablet between the killings to summon the physical and mental strength to carry out the fatal deeds.
During the preliminary hearing in October, West Sacramento Police Detective Eric Palmer, the lead investigator on the case, said he first came in contact with a soaking wet Hodges in the back of a California Highway Patrol cruiser near Bryte on the evening of Sept. 13. Hodges, he said, had gone into the water south of West Sacramento in a failed attempt to end his own life before swimming back to shore.
He said Hodges was willing to talk when they met later in an interview room at the West Sacramento Police Department.
He described in detail how he killed the children and waited for his wife to come home so he could kill her, too. But when he tried to wrap the belt around her neck she fought back, scratching, kicking and begging for mercy, Palmer said.
The Internal Revenue Service was coming after the family for back taxes, and their credit cards were maxed out, Palmer said Hodges told him during the interview. He had been thinking about killing the family, then himself, for a year.
Court records showed that Hodges had no criminal record other than minor traffic violations. In a Facebook post days after the killings – made public by KCRA – Mai Hodges said her husband was never physically abusive.
“He had always been a caring and loving person,” she wrote. “But for whatever reason went (through) his mind, heart to do this, I can never imagine why. I ask myself everyday, ‘why?’”