Man pleads guilty to murdering Victoria veteran

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Jan. 22, 2014 at 6:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 21, 2014 at 7:22 p.m.

A Victoria mother is relieved that the man accused of killing her son has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Michael Lee Lerma pleaded guilty Tuesday to the capital murder of Frank William "Will" Wearden Jr., 33. The plea came during what was supposed to be a hearing about evidence.

Wearden's body was found May 14, 2012, in a ditch near Kingsville, where he was a college student. The family thinks Lerma approached Wearden on his way home from a bar and killed him while robbing him of his Toyota pickup.

The state attorney general's office prosecuted the case after Kleberg County District Attorney John Hubert removed himself from the case. Hubert said he is Wearden's cousin.

The venue was also changed to Nueces County. The state was seeking the death penalty.

"We (the family) decided two days after Will's death that the only way we were going to survive this is by forgiving," the victim's mother, Gloria Wearden, said Wednesday.

This is the second time Lerma was offered the plea deal, she said.

Wearden served in the Army. He was very religious and was studying wildlife, his mother, 64, said.



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