YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - Just days before his scheduled trial, 43-year-old Zaryl Bush pleaded guilty to murdering his ex-girlfriend's son, 14-year-old Teddy Foltz.
Bush admitted to eight charges, including the on-going abuse of Foltz, and the severe beating that ultimately caused his death on January 26.
Becky Doherty, Mahoning County's Chief Criminal Prosecutor says there's evidence that the child lived in fear of Bush everyday.
"I'm not trying to minimize when a child or anyone else is killed in a moment of being enraged. This was on-going abuse. Teddy was not just physically abused, he was emotionally abused. It was name calling constantly. It was total disrespect for Teddy's life. He was just really nothing to this man ... somebody to beat up ... somebody to punch," Doherty said.
Authorities make it clear that a plea agreement is not an easy way out for Bush because he has confessed to murder.
He could face 22 years to life in prison as part of the agreement with prosecutors, or Judge R. Scott Krichbaum could choose to sentence him up to the maximum penalty of 41 years to life.
The deal also prevents the murder victim's twin brothers, who witnessed the murder, from having to relive what happened by testifying at a trial.
"It will enable the twins not to have to face Zaryl Bush again which I'm sure would have been a horribly traumatic event for all of these kids, and his own daughter as well. They were witnesses in this case. It will definitely spare them," Struthers Police Detective Jeff Lewis says.
Authorities confirm the long-term abuse included corporal punishment, emotional abuse, threatening the children with a gun if they told anyone, and detectives say there's more.
"We did obtain a statement that Teddy was forced to walk in a garden where Bush had put hot coals or something from a fire pit in there," Detective Lewis said.
We're told the evidence against Bush also included him tampering with evidence by removing bloody towels from his Creed Street home and taking them to the home of Shain Widdersheim, his then girlfriend, and the mother of the victim.
What Bush didn't count on is the towels not only contained the child's blood, but Bush's DNA.
He'll be sentenced on Friday, June 28 in front of Judge R. Scott Krichbaum in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
Bush's admission is the second guilty plea in this case in two days.
The victim's own mother, Shain Widdersheim pleaded guilty to four child endangering charges and obstruction of justice for instructing her 11-year-old twins to lie about what they witnessed.
An involuntary manslaughter charge was dismissed against Widdersheim because prosecutors say she was not present at the time of the beating.
For her role in the crime she could be sentenced to 10 years in prison according to prosecutors. She's likely to be sentenced in August.
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