The trial of the seventh defendant in the January 2009 home-invasion murder of Center City businessman Robert Chae ended suddenly this morning with a guilty plea by Julius Wise.
Wise, 34, of the Frankford section of Philadelphia, faces 20 to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty in Montgomery County court to third-degree murder on the second day of his trial.
He had been charged with second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence, for helping plan the robbery in which Korean businessman Chae, 58, suffocated after being beaten and duct-taped in his Montgomery Township home.
Of the six others charged with Chae's murder, five were convicted, including two of three men who took the case to trial in January. Among those entering guilty pleas was Chae's nephew Angelo Shin, who admitted telling the others how they could get money by robbing his uncle's safe.
Wise, who was charged only with aiding the attack, had rejected plea offers several times before the trial began.
"This is where I thought this case should end up from very early in the process," Assistant District Attorney Todd Stephens said.
Wise, who dabbed tears and sweat from his face before the half-hour hearing began, calmly answered a series of questions to affirm he was serious about the plea.
His attorney, Leigh Narducci, said he had brought up anew the idea of taking a plea deal when he met with Wise this morning, a day after jurors heard opening statements and testimony from Chae's widow and daughter. Narducci said he believed that "looking down the barrel of a mandatory life sentence" was the reason Wise took the deal.
"I thought the risk was too great that the jury would come back with a second-degree murder verdict," Narducci said.
Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Thomas P. Rogers has not set a date for sentencing.