Guilty plea by David Lias In a hushed tone barely audible in the courtroom of the Clay County Courthouse Monday, Nov. 22, Chaske McDonough pleaded guilty to first degree manslaughter in the Aug. 11 stabbing death of Mark Paulson of Vermillion.
The plea means McDonough has voluntarily waived his rights to a jury trial, and possibly could be incarcerated for life.
McDonough was arrested Aug. 16, three days after police were called to Paulson's home where his body was discovered.
McDonough was residing in the neighboring Lamplighter Motel at the time of Paulson's death.
During the execution of a search warrant of his apartment, local law enforcement found several items of clothing, including tennis shoes, and three pieces of a broken knife found in a kitchen garbage can.
McDonough entered a not guilty plea to second degree murder after he was indicted on those charges by a Clay County grand jury Aug. 29. Second degree murder is a Class B felony that carries a mandatory life sentence.
His murder trial was scheduled to begin Dec. 16 in the Clay County Courthouse.
McDonough told Circuit Court Judge Arthur Rusch that he was partying with neighbors in an adjacent trailer court Aug. 11.
"On my way home, I threw a bottle," he said. "I meant to throw it over the trailer, and it hit Mark's trailer," McDonough, 21, said.
Paulson came out of his trailer, and was initially angry, McDonough said.
"I told him I threw the bottle, and he asked me to come inside his trailer," he said.
McDonough said he saw that his beer bottle had broken Paulson's window. "I told him that I'll pay for it if you want me to," he said.
McDonough said Paulson offered him a beer, and even struck up a conversation, asking him about sports.
"I told him that after I drink this beer, I've got to go home," he told Rusch.
McDonough said he began to feel uncomfortable. He claimed that Paulson wasn't interested in money in exchange for the damage to his window.
"I was under the impression ? that he was trying to proposition me," McDonough said. "He then approached me, and put his hand on me. I was in fear of my life."
He told Rusch how he responded by hitting Paulson several times.
The two men eventually were fighting on the floor of Paulson's trailer home. The struggle ended when McDonough
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"I stabbed him twice with a knife," McDonough said.
Paulson's body was discovered after Vermillion police responded to a 911 call to his home at approximately 9:20 p.m. Aug. 13.
During a search of Paulson's home after his death, "state criminalists located evidence in the form of shoe prints, finger prints, blood, palm prints, certain impressionistic lacerations on the victim's body and other physical evidence believed left or incurred by the perpetrator," according to search warrant documents.
Despite pleading to guilty to manslaughter rather than possibly being found guilty of second degree murder, McDonough may still receive a life term in the state penitentiary.
Phil Peterson, Clay County public defender, is representing McDonough. His request for a pre-sentence report was granted by Rusch.
Clay County State's Attorney Tami Bern said after Monday's hearing that Paulson's family was satisfied with the plea agreement.
Bern said McDonough likely will be sentenced in four to six weeks.