By Kathy Jefcoats
A Clayton County man facing the death penalty in the 2001 stabbing of the mother of his children broke down in tears Friday morning, as he pleaded guilty to her murder.
The plea meant Fred Douglas Pugh II, 37, avoided the death penalty. Instead, Henry Superior Court Judge Hal Craig accepted the state's recommendation of life without parole.
Pugh, represented by James P. Brown and Edea Caldwell, admitted to stabbing to death Julia Cole, 32, July 24, 2001.
"Is that what you did?" Craig asked Pugh.
"Yes," he answered without elaborating.
Brown said Pugh has not been able to offer an explanation for killing the mother of his three daughters a woman with whom he shared a relationship since he was 13.
"He's the most remorseful person I've seen in 32 years of practice," Brown said. "He has no good explanation for what happened."
One of Pugh's daughters addressed the court, telling her father that she and her sisters still love him, despite the crime. As she stood in front of Craig, Pugh family members sitting in the audience began crying. When the outbursts grew loud, Craig warned them to stay quiet or leave the courtroom.
Flint District Attorney Tommy Floyd filed a notice to seek the death penalty after Pugh was indicted Sept. 20, 2001. However, Pugh had a history of mental problems at the time of the stabbing and his defense team sought a psychological examination before going forward with the case.
Floyd said the exam caused the delay in getting the case to court.
"It was absolutely necessary and appropriate but it was time-consuming," Floyd said when the sentencing was over.
He said the plea agreement was reached with the cooperation of the Cole family and, in part, because of the results of the mental exam.
"The psychological results were somewhat mitigating and there was remorse on the part of the defendant," Floyd said. "Plus, the death penalty in this state and in the country, is an uncertain sentence, expensive proposition and may or may not be appropriate."
During the hearing, Brown said the mental exam showed that Pugh suffered a head injury in a car accident at 10.
"That could be a mitigating factor because it affected his ability to control his emotions and impulse," he said. "There is nothing to show a mental or insanity defense but there was some brain injury resulting in the defendant being unable to control his impulses. He was subject to periods of rage."
The day of the murder, Floyd said Pugh went to Henry Medical Center where Cole worked as a patient transporter. He caught her in the parking lot and began stabbing her. Sam Ahern, now hospital president and CEO, witnessed the stabbing.
"Sam Ahern heard sounds of distress and ran out and saw Mr. Pugh at the time he thought hitting someone," said Floyd. "He hollered at him to stop and at the same time realized that the man was stabbing her."
Floyd said Pugh stopped the stabbing and advanced toward Ahern briefly. He then turned and resumed stabbing Cole. When he finished, Pugh left the knife in her heart and left the scene.
Floyd said the doctor who performed Cole's autopsy said she suffered multiple stab and slice wounds to her face, head, neck, arms, hands and upper torso.
Floyd said the filing of a notice to seek the death penalty is a tool with which to give a jury three options death, life with the possibility of parole or life without.