James Albert Clapham, 35, Sweetwater, on Friday accepted a plea agreement for a life sentence for the first-degree murder of William “Bill” Roberts.
The decision comes on the heels of Loudon co-defendant Robbie Lee Covington accepting a similar agreement Sept. 11.
Clapham pleaded guilty in Loudon County Criminal Court to the felony murder charge, along with especially aggravated robbery.
“In return for his guilty plea he received a life sentence, which means he will have to serve 51 years in prison before he is eligible for parole under current Tennessee law,” Russell Johnson, 9th Judicial District attorney general, said. “He also received 25 years on the especially aggravated robbery, which sentence runs concurrent with his life sentence.”
The incident dates to Feb. 18, 2017, when officers responded to a call at 9:36 a.m. at 3032 Dutton Road in Loudon after a neighbor noticed money in the driveway and an open door at the 64-year-old Roberts’ residence. When officers arrived, Roberts was found in the bedroom with a single gunshot wound to the head.
Within a couple of hours, law enforcement got a tip that Covington planned to fly to Texas and he was taken into custody shortly thereafter. Covington told officers of Clapham’s involvement. Clapham was subsequently arrested.
The driver of the vehicle, Lenoir City resident Brittney Ann Smith, was arrested later that month and pleaded guilty in August to facilitation of felony murder. Smith is serving a 15-year sentence.
“At the end of the plea, which takes about 20 minutes, when Judge (Jeffrey) Wicks asked him why he decided to plea guilty, he responded, ‘Because of the felony murder law,’ — which says that if someone dies as a result of the intentional commission of a felony such as robbery or burglary — and that he hoped ‘the bill’ backed by Gov. (Bill) Lee ‘to reduce a life sentence’ with the time before someone is eligible for parole from 51 years to 25 years ‘passes’,” Johnson said.
Kelly Ingle, attorney for Clapham, could not be reached for comment by News-Herald presstime.