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'Guilty, your honor': Admitted hit-and-run killer takes plea deal

CREATED Dec. 17, 2012 - UPDATED: Dec. 18, 2012

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  • Video by 1041kqth.com

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  • Jesus Zepeda

  • Sarah Barcelo-Lytle, Sterling Lytle's mother

Reporter: Kevin Keen
 
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A mother lost her only child and has demanded justice ever since. Monday, the man responsible for firefighter Sterling Lytle’s death pleaded guilty and agreed to do something unusual to satisfy Lytle's mother's sense of justice.
 
Twenty-six-year-old Lytle ultimately died after a hit-and-run-turned-homicide this summer in Tucson. After a month of police searching and family pleas, 39-year-old Jesus Zepeda turned himself in.
 
“Guilty, your honor,” Zepeda told Judge Scott Rash Monday, when asked how he pleaded to one count of negligent homicide, a class four felony.
 
All sides -- including Lytle's family in the front row of the courtroom -- reached the agreement, which will put Zepeda in prison for four to eight years. The exact length will be determined at a later sentencing.
 
Outside the courthouse, Lytle’s mother Sarah Barcelo-Lytle told 9 On Your Side she hoped this agreement will offer answers.
 
As part of the deal, Zepeda agreed to answers questions -- under oath at a later date -- about what happened that June morning.
 
“Because I need answers,” Barcelo-Lytle explained. “I need to know why he picked an innocent person and ran him over.”
 
“Why did he do it? Why? I need to know,” she continued. “I need to understand why he took my son's life, my only child's life.”
 
9 On Your Side reporter Kevin Keen asked him, “Do you think you'll get an answer to that question?” “I don't know, but I'm hoping I will,” she answered. “I can only pray that he'll do the right thing.”
 
Lytle’s family and friends hoped Zepeda’s honest answers during that questioning will help bring justice.
 
“He touched many, many lives,” Barcelo-Lytle said, tearing up. “I'm very grateful that he was in my life for 26 years. This is the first Christmas without him for 26 years. (For the) first time, I'm coming home to no tree or lights outside.”
 
Zepeda will be sentenced in court in mid-February. Barcelo-Lytle hoped for the maximum allowable prison time under the deal -- eight years.
 
9 On Your Side has a standing request for an interview with Zepeda and his family, through his attorney.
 
9 On Your Side requested a copy of the full plea agreement Monday from Pima County Superior Court and from the Pima County Attorney's Office, but it won't be available for a few days.
 
Update: Late Tuesday, the Pima County Attorney's Office supplied 9 On Your Side the full plea agreement under the state open records law.