Shawn Willhelm Pleads Guilty, Gets Life

A Smith County man charged in the brutal slaying of his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend has pleaded guilty to capital murder.

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In court on Monday, Shawn Willhelm (20) waived his rights to a jury trial and accepted a life sentence for the murder of Jeffrey Joplin.

A year ago, Jeffrey Joplin’s father found him dead inside his Smith County home. The 36-year old had been robbed, stabbed, strangled and beaten to death. Willhelm, the man prosecutors believe executed the fatal blows, became the first of five defendants sentenced in the case.

But before heading off for a long stint in prison, Willhelm’s defense team dropped new evidence on the state. Several letters written by co-defendant, Justin Clapp, were turned over to prosecutors on Sunday. The letters strengthen the state’s case against Clapp, according to Chief Felony Prosecutor, Matt Bingham.

He "makes incriminating statements that connect him to the crime scene," Bingham told Channel 7 on Monday. "I can't, at this time, tell you how it will affect any of the other cases."

Bingham says the letters, recently obtained from Kentucky, are the only physical evidence linking Clapp to the murder scene.

"What we had against Clapp was accomplice-witness testimony and other circumstantial evidence," recalls Bingham.

Bingham says because of the letters, the state has, "in (Clapp's ) own words (a report) that he was at the crime scene."

A handwriting analyst confirmed on the stand Monday, that the handwriting matches Clapp's writing samples. The analyst was followed by a crime scene investigator who confirmed the presence of Clapp's fingerprints on the letters.

On the Sunday before his trial date, Willhelm agreed to a plea and taped a video confession describing all the details surrounding the murder.

Bingham says it's uncertain whether Willhelm will testify against co-defendants Justin Clapp, Heather Mizer, Brett Matthews and Joseph Walton.

"The basis for us waving his death penalty was not for his testimony," says Bingham. "It was because of the evidence that he provided, it's evidence that absolutely connects Clapp to this offense."

Under the agreement, Shawn Willhelm will not be eligible for parole until he's 60-years old.  Prosecutors hope to have Clapp's trial next. Willhelm's girlfriend Heather Mizer and Brett Matthews are still waiting capital murder trials. Joseph Walton, another co-defendnet, is charged with aggravated robbery.