A local man admitted Monday to his role in the double homicide of a South Georgia couple along the Amicalola River in Dawson County last December.
Benjamin Kelly Mullinax, 28, told Northeastern Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Bonnie Oliver he was guilty of all charges in relation to the deaths of 22-year-old Jennifer Budrawich and 35-year old Paul Budrawich.
The couple was in town Dec. 19 visiting their children when they were killed and their bodies dragged into the river.
In the negotiated plea, Mullinax received two consecutive life sentences. He would be eligible for parole in 30 years.
Authorities have said Mullinax was not the trigger man, but was involved in luring the couple to the river and concealing their bodies, Oliver verified that Mullinax was clear that the possibility of parole “does not mean you will be paroled.”
Authorities say Jessie James Kilgore, 40, who is the father of Jennifer Budrawich’s oldest son, shot the couple over an ongoing child custody dispute.
“If I’d known what was going to happen, I never would have gone there and I never would have let [Kilgore] go there either,” said Mullinax as he addressed the court Monday.
Lee Parks, Mullinax’s court appointed attorney, called the slayings a tragic situation.
Parks said if the case had gone to trial he would have disputed some of the details the state presented.
“Still it wouldn’t have changed the big picture ... that’s why we’re here,” Parks said.
Mullinax said he hoped the victims’ families could forgive him.
Family members said it is too soon to talk about forgiving.
Joy Gaddis, who now has custody of the deceased couple’s youngest boys, said it was a mixed blessing that they are too young to know what happened to their parents.
“This was a senseless and incomprehensible act. We need to be able to grieve, heal and move on so we can give these innocent little boys a normal, secure life, without the stress and trauma of a long trial and endless appeals,” she said.
She said the oldest son still asks for his “mommy with the red hair.”
Gaddis said Jennifer Budrawich loved her children.
“You could just hear in her voice how proud she was to be their mother,” Gaddis said.
Mullinax has agreed to testify against Kilgore if his case goes to trial.
Prosecutors have said Kilgore’s case fits the criteria for the death penalty.
No motions to seek the death penalty have been filed, said Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh.
The timely closing of the case, Darragh said, is a reflection of hours of hard work by local and state authorities.
“The Dawson County’s Sheriff’s Office dispatchers are to be commended for handling Jennifer’s frantic 911 call seriously,” he said. “Investigators from the Sheriff’s Office along with agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and Department of Natural Resources are to be commended for the quality of the investigation.”
Paul and Jennifer Budrawich had traveled from Effingham County to visit their children the weekend they were killed.
Authorities found their bodies a day apart after receiving a 911 call from a woman saying she was going to be shot.
The call was from Jennifer Budrawich.
On the call, a woman’s voice could be heard asking: “Why are you shooting us? Why did you bring me down here to the river?”
A man’s voice replied, “I’m going to kill both of you.”
A .38-caliber handgun believed to be the murder weapon was found last month a few miles from the scene of the crime.
Kilgore, who is married to Jennifer Budrawich’s mother, is represented by Rob McNeill from the Dawson County Public Defedender’s Office.
At the time of his arrest in the murder investigation, Kilgore was out on $35,000 property bond for a May 2009 burglary charge.
According to the bail order, Kilgore posed “no threat or danger to any person, to the community or to any property in this community.”
A court date for Kilgore has not been set.