(CBS/AP) ELKO, Nev. - Kody Cree Patten, one of two teens accused in the March 2011 slaying of Nevada classmate Micaela "Mickey" Costanzo, pleaded guilty Wednesday to first-degree murder with a deadly weapon, in a deal that will spare him the death penalty.
The Elko Daily Free Press reports Patten, 19, said he understood the plea bargain he was making at the court hearing in Elko, but didn't discuss details about killing Costanzo, 16.
He'd previously pleaded not guilty and was set for a July trial.
"It was the sensible thing to do," attorney John Ohlson had told The Associated Press about the agreement reached last week, adding that if some of the details about the killing came out at trial, "it would be difficult to avoid the death penalty."
At his sentencing set for July 31, he could receive life in prison with parole, life in prison without parole, or 50 years in prison with the possibility of parole. He could be given an
additional 1 to 20 years on his sentence for the use of a deadly weapon.
Patten and Toni Fratto, his girlfriend at the time, were accused in the death of Costanzo, who was taken to a remote area near the Utah-Nevada border after track practice at West Wendover High School on March 3, 2011.
Authorities said Costanzo was struck in the head with a shovel and her throat was slit before she was buried in a shallow grave.
Patten and Fratto also were accused of burning some of the teen's personal items in another location.
Fratto hadn't been a suspect until she offered a confession to Patten's defense attorney. In the recording, she told lawyers that Costanzo wanted to date Patten, but he didn't want anything to do with her.
Fratto, now 19, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder with a deadly weapon and was sentenced in April to up to life in prison. She will be eligible for parole after serving 18 years.
Fratto's mother, Cassie Fratto, had described her daughter as a girl who had a bright future - an active volunteer in her small community - who became a victim in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship with Patten.
"Toni's not a monster," Cassie Fratto said in an interview last week, pointing out that her daughter came forward to accept responsibility for her role in the death. "She got wrapped up with the wrong person."
More on Crimesider