KETCHUM, Idaho — A central Idaho man accused of murder has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in the death of a neighbor whose decomposing body was found in his backyard.

The Idaho Mountain Express reports (http://bit.ly/2d1RJIQ ) that Keith Blankenship on Tuesday reached a plea deal with prosecutors in the death of 47-year-old Stephan Michael Romanchuck. Blankenship had faced trial on a charge of second-degree murder.

Romanchuck’s body was discovered under leaves and debris in Blankenship’s backyard in May 2014, four months after he was reported missing. Blankenship told authorities he shot Romanchuck in self-defense.

He pleaded guilty to one felony count of failure to notify a coroner or law enforcement of a death with intent to prevent discovery of the manner of death.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

An earlier trial for murder and destruction of evidence end in a mistrial. In April, Blaine County Judge Jonathan Brody ruled that a witness testifying on the first day of the trial made an accusation against Blankenship that the jury shouldn’t have heard.

As part of the plea agreement the state agreed to drop the other charges.

“The plea agreement was reached following a lengthy investigation and careful deliberations within our office, including consultation with the victim’s family, law enforcement and experts,” Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas said in a prepared statement.

Thomas said that even though Blankenship admitted to killing Romanchuk, the state may not have been able to meet its burden of proof.

“Extensive forensic testing of the victim’s body, clothing and materials taken from Blankenship’s residence all demonstrate the manner of death (gunshot wounds),” Thomas wrote. “But this evidence, as well as the voluminous telephone records, electronic evidence and the testimony of non-eyewitnesses did not provide a clear picture of the circumstances leading up to the killing.”

Blankenship is due in court again Dec. 6 for a sentencing hearing.


Information from: Idaho Mountain Express, http://www.mtexpress.com