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Life without parole for killing Effingham couple
Stepfathers guilty plea averts possible death penalty
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The Dawson County man accused of killing his stepdaughter and her husband late last year admitted last Monday he was the triggerman in the slayings.

Northeastern Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Andrew Fuller sentenced Jessie James Kilgore to life without parole April 12.

Kilgore, 40, is the second man to plead guilty in the deaths of the Effingham County couple, whose bodies were pulled from the Amicalola River a day apart last December. Benjamin Kelly Mullinax, 28, was sentenced last week to two consecutive life sentences with the possibility of parole after 30 years for his role in the murders.

Jennifer Budrawich, 22, and Paul Budrawich, 35, were in town to visit their children when they were shot to death Dec. 19 and dragged into the river in western Dawson County.

Sitting in the courtroom Monday afternoon, with just his court-appointed attorneys by his side, Kilgore answered only “yes” and “yeah” when Fuller asked if he committed the crimes.

The victims’ families wiped away tears, while Paul Budrawich’s mother held a photo album of her son and his family close to her chest.

In a statement read by Katie Strayhorn, a victim’s advocate with the Dawson County District Attorney’s Office, Mary Budrawich told Kilgore how much she misses her son.

“I wanted my son to come home the last time he visited the boys, but he didn’t make it back home alive,” she wrote.

Joy Gaddis, Jennifer Budrawich’s cousin who now has custody of the couple’s two children, also asked Strayhorn to read her statement.

“You are such an evil, ignorant and selfish person that I don’t think you even realize the devastation you have caused and more importantly what you have done to the lives of these little boys you brought into the middle of this nightmare,” Gaddis wrote.

Standing before the court, Debbie Harris looked toward Kilgore as she told him the lives of her brother and his wife mattered.

Kilgore could have faced the death penalty had the case been tried.

“I do not wish you to get the death penalty,” Harris told Kilgore. “I do not wish for you to get killed in prison. I do wish that you feel every ounce of pain that you made Jennifer feel till it keeps you awake at night. I wish you to keep her last words to ever be spoken. May God have mercy on your soul.”

According to court testimony, Kilgore, who fathered Jennifer Budrawich’s oldest son and is married to her mother, shot the couple over an ongoing child custody dispute.

Authorities found their bodies 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.”

Kilgore also pleaded guilty on Monday to a May 2009 burglary case. He was out on bond for the burglary arrest when he was arrested for the double homicide.

Kilgore did not make any statement. Public defender Brad Morris said he believed the sentence to be adequate.

Kilgore and Mullinax, his nephew, were arrested a short time after the murders.

Mullinax admitted he helped Kilgore arrange a meeting with the couple and was present when the shootings occurred. He also pleaded guilty.