Joanna Lynne McElrath, 39, faces 25 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to the 2011 murder of her husband, Susanville police Officer Robert McElrath, 37.
The plea, entered Friday before Judge John T. Ball, gives the Susanville resident “a shot at parole but a long time in the future,” said Lassen County District Attorney Robert M. Burns.
Burns initially charged McElrath with premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder, with special allegations that the murder involved lying in wait and was committed for financial gain.
The conspiracy charge was dropped, which could reduce McElrath’s sentence. She is scheduled for sentencing on May 23.
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Robin Glen James, 49, McElrath’s alleged co-conspirator, is scheduled to appear in Lassen County Superior Court on May 23 for a trial-setting conference. The court delayed his case until the conclusion of McElrath’s, Burns said.
James faces charges of premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit murder and special allegations that the murder involved lying in wait and his use of a firearm.
Authorities say McElrath and James, who were romantic partners in January 2011, drugged Robert McElrath with a prescription narcotic before using his own car to drive him to a railroad trestle over the Susan River, seven miles west of Susanville, where they shot him with his service weapon and returned later to dump his body off the bridge.
McElrath’s plea eliminates her jury trial, which was scheduled to be held in Yuba County after Ball ruled that the publicity surrounding her case was so extensive that neither defendant would receive a fair trial in Lassen County.