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Man charged in killing of Iowa prison staffers pleads guilty
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Man charged in killing of Iowa prison staffers pleads guilty

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ANAMOSA, Iowa — One of two inmates accused of killing a prison nurse and correctional officer during an escape attempt pleaded guilty Friday to murder and other counts and confessed in court to fatally beating both with a hammer.

Thomas Woodard Jr., 38, pleaded guilty in Jones County to two counts of first-degree murder, one count of kidnapping and one count of attempted murder. Woodard and his co-defendant, 29-year-old Michael Dutcher, had each pleaded not guilty in April to the counts in the March 23 deaths of nurse Lorena Schulte, 50, and correctional officer Robert McFarland, 46.

Investigators have said the pair used hammers to beat Schulte and McFarland to death and to seriously injure an inmate who tried to stop the attack at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. The inmates also are accused of briefly holding another female employee as a hostage.

Woodard showed no emotion Friday as he answered dozens of questions from the judge about his role in the killings. He replied to most with a simple “Yes," including when he was asked if he had hit McFarland several times in the back of the head with a hammer and whether he hit Schulte at least twice in the face with the same hammer.

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Woodard confirmed he intended to kill the correctional officer, but balked when asked if he intended to kill Schulte.

“I was simply trying to stop her from calling for help," he said.

The only emotion Woodard displayed came as a defiant flash of anger when the judge asked if he intended to kill the inmate who tried to stop the attack, saying the injured inmate “is a snitch and a pedophile, and I had every intention of killing him. I wish I'd hit him one more time.”

Woodard's motive in pleading to the original counts was not made clear during the hearing. Woodard, who was serving at least 17 years for armed robbery when the killings took place, now faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

As part of his plea, officials stated he would be transferred to the Nebraska prison system to serve out his sentence there.

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Shortly after the shooting, two men with gunshot wounds were dropped off at a Kearney hospital, where one man died from his injuries, police said. The other man is listed in stable condition.

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