With his public defender and attorney Ed Miller by his side, Terry Edwin Justus pleaded guilty yesterday in Sevier County Court to two counts of second degree murder in the deaths of Sharon Acosta and her unborn baby.
Sevier County Judge Richard Vance spoke with Justus in court and informed him of his rights, including his right to a jury trial and told Justus, “It’s your decision to make.”
Justus waived his right to a trial and pleaded guilty to two counts of second degree murder and a change from a range one offender to a range two offender meaning more prison time.
Under the agreement made between the public defenders office and District Attorney Al Schmutzer, Jr., Justus will receive 35 years in prison to be served 100% with a 15% reduction for credits possible. Meaning, Justus must serve at least 29 years and nine months before he is considered eligible for parole. By that time Justus will be nearly 70 years old.
“We feel that justice has been done,” stated Acosta’s brother Daniel Acosta. “We agreed to this agreement with the district attorney.”
Schmutzer told Judge Vance the facts he had in the case and stated that Sharon Acosta had come to Justus’s residence on July 1, 2005 and spent time with him. She was then reported missing and the Knoxville Police Department put out a missing person’s bulletin on her.
Justus was the last known person to be with Acosta. At first, according to Schmutzer, Justus denied having seen Acosta or knowing of her whereabouts. “She was there and left” is what Justus told authorities.
Later Schmutzer stated that Justus admitted Acosta had stayed the night, and the next morning they had got into an argument. Justus told authorities that while Acosta was on top of him during the fight that Justus choked Acosta with an electrical wire.
Schmutzer said the facts in the case actually would show that Acosta was strangled manually. Justus then stated, according to Schmutzer, that he didn’t want his parents to know that he had gotten Acosta pregnant and that after he strangled her he took her body to a subdivision development that was being built on Boyds Creek Hwy., and put her in a hole and covered her body.
He then got a neighbor to follow him as he took Acosta’s vehicle back to her place of employment in Knoxville. Justus later took authorities to Acosta’s body. She was pregnant at the time with what Schmutzer called “a viable fetus.”
“The family was in agreement with me on the plea deal,” stated Schmutzer. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. I think it was a good deal. He’ll be spending 35 years in prison.”
Justus read a statement aloud after Judge Vance agreed with the two second degree murder charge agreement with the range 2 offender charge added.
Justus stated, “I ask God for forgiveness for my actions. I ask God for courage and strength and I beg forgiveness from Austin (referring to Acosta’s young son) and my daughters.”
Justus is the father of two young girls. He then read a verse from the Bible.
Judge Vance told Justus, “You have affected more than just two lives. You have affected her family, your family, and members of the community.”
Acosta’s family was satisfied with the judge’s verdict.
“We are glad that he took responsibly for what he did,” stated Daniel Acosta. “We wanted to settle this matter quickly and we think the agreement was a good one because it keeps Terry away from Austin until he is old enough to be a man and have the maturity to deal with this. When Terry gets out Austin will be around 40.”
The Acosta family said they forgive Justus.
“He did more to himself than he did to me,” stated Daniel Acosta. “He’s ruined his life. He had two daughters. He’s worked at the same place for 18 years and had no criminal record. What makes a person just snap? I was hoping he was raised right and made a judgment error and he stepped up and apologized. It’s not up to me to judge him, judgment is for God to do.”
Acosta’s niece Christina Alzarez was also in the courtroom when the plea deal was finalized.
“We are just glad it’s over and we are happy with the time he will serve,” she said. “I admire him for what he did in standing up and talking responsibility for his actions.”
Daniel Acosta said the ruling brings closure for not only his family but also Justus’s. “It would have been more traumatic and tragic if he tried to justify his actions,” stated Daniel Acosta.
After court Schmutzer talked about Justus and stated, “He didn’t apologize to the victim’s family,” but stated that he was happy with the plea.
Miller stated after the hearing, “My client is doing better now. He’s accepting the responsibility for this and he seeks forgiveness and wants to be productive.
Justus ended his statement by saying, “May God be with all of us.”