BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. – A Bedford County man accepted a long sentence Tuesday in a high-profile, 40-year-old case.
Lloyd Lee Welch pleaded guilty in the 1975 disappearance and deaths of the Lyon sisters. He avoided the death penalty, but the 60-year-old is scheduled to serve 48 years in prison in Virginia.
It’s a case that has received national attention and drawn support from federal agencies and law enforcement departments in Virginia and Maryland.
The presence of Lyon family members in Bedford marked one of their rare public appearances in the case.
When Welch officially entered a guilty plea to two first-degree murder charges. It marked the end to a four-year-long case and the end to some of the uncertainty the Lyon family has been dealing with for 42 years.
He pleaded guilty to abduction but did not admit to sexually abusing or killing the Lyon sisters, Katherine and Sheila, who were 10 and 12 years old.
Welch gave short, direct responses in court Tuesday. His plea agreement means he’s scheduled to serve a 48-year sentence in Virginia. It will run concurrently with pending sexual battery charges in Prince William County. He still has to complete the last nine years of a sentence in Delaware, in a separate case.
By agreeing to the plea, he avoids the death penalty, which the prosecution says would have been on the table in a trial.
“This is a good day for the cause of justice,” commonwealth attorney Wesley Nance said. “It will not give the family closure nor all the answers they deserve.”
Those answers include what happened to the girls when they were taken from a Maryland shopping mall. Their bodies were never found.
“Today, a despicable human being, Lloyd Lee Welch, answered for his part in the crimes against Katherine and Sheila,” Maryland investigator Darren Francke said.
For 42 years the family has been looking for answers.
“I greatly appreciate their support through this grueling process,” Nance said.
John Lyon, the sisters’ father, was there with his wife and three other family members. He thanked all the agencies in Virginia and Maryland, including the FBI.
“Our family here, we want to express sincere gratitude to so many people,” Lyon said.
He says he’s glad this chapter is over.
“We just want to say simply, thank you. It's been a long time and we're tired and we just want to go home,” he said.
Welch admitted to playing a role in getting rid of at least one of the sisters’ bodies. Investigators found evidence of that when they found a tooth on Taylor’s Mountain sometime during the last three years.
The judge gave Welch the chance to speak in the courtroom, but he declined. His attorney spoke for him.
“I think Mr. Welch, it’s been our experience, has a lot of remorse about the circumstances and the role he played in this proceeding,” defense attorney Tony Anderson said.
Anderson said Welch had been abused as a child and had a substance abuse problem at the time of the murders. The prosecution would not confirm those claims.
The commonwealth’s attorney’s office said Welch’s partial admissions in interviews throughout the years built a strong case against him, and a witness would have confirmed a fire and the stench of death on Taylor’s Mountain.
Welch’s story changed over time and he’s named a number of other people involved in the crime. Nance says Welch could be eligible for parole when he is in his mid-80’s, but the chances of that are very slim, according to him.
He also said there are no other people of interest in the case right now, but he left the door open to future prosecution.