(CBS/AP) SEATTLE - Peggy Sue Thomas, a former beauty queen who had been charged with murder in the 2003 death of a man found fatally shot on Whidbey Island in Washington, has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge - rendering criminal assistance.
Island County authorities hope Thomas, winner of the 2000 Ms. Washington pageant, will spend four years in prison after she is sentenced in February.
She was accused of plotting with her then-boyfriend, James Huden, to kill a man named Russ Douglas, who was found shot to death in a car shortly after Christmas 2003. Huden was convicted of first-degree murder last summer and sentenced to 80 years. Huden reportedly refused to testify against Thomas, whose trial was due to begin next week.
Prosecutor Greg Banks also tells The Seattle Times that a key prosecution witness was gravely ill.
Defense lawyer Craig Olatt says Thomas maintains her innocence. He says the plea she entered Thursday gives her much-needed relief from a case that has dogged her for nearly a decade.
Thomas was arrested in July 2011 on her houseboat near Farmington, N.M.