Husband Pleads Guilty To Wife's Murder

Ben Lightsey Jr. Accepts Plea Deal To Avoid Life In Prison

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A St. Johns County man pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to murder in the death of his wife, who was found floating in the St. Augustine Inlet after the couple attended a wedding in November.

Benjamin Lightsey Jr. agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a 25-year prison sentence. His attorney said he "wanted to get it off his chest."

"He wants to bare all about what he did and how he believes it's inexcusable. He wants the focus to be on him because he's at fault. He's responsible," said Ben Lightsey's attorney Patrick Canan.

Melissa Lightsey's body was found in the water the day after she allegedly disappeared about midnight Nov. 8 while swimming in the surf of Vilano Beach.

The medical examiner later ruled that she died of trauma to the head, face and neck, not drowning.

In addition to the cause of death, Ben Lightsey was considered a suspect because he did not tell anyone she was missing until the next morning. It was his father, Glenn Lightsey -- former sergeant with St. Johns County sheriff's Office -- who called authorities.

Melissa Lightsey, who was 36, leaves behind two children -- 3-year-old Sonny Lee and 2-year-old Zane.

"You have, through this act of violence, in effect orphaned your own children," Judge Wendy Berger said before announcing the sentence.

The victim's parents said they were satisfied with the 25-year sentence, even though Lightsey could get out of prison after serving only 85 percent of that time.

"The fact that we don't have to go through many more months or years of torment and the fact that he fessed up to what he did and he seemed to actually have remorse, which I kind of felt he didn't all along," said Jim Bryan, Melissa Lightsey's step-father.

Melissa Lightsey's mother, Melinda Bryan, said although she is grateful there will be no trial she could never forgive the man who killed her daughter.

"She's very deeply missed and will be forever. It's just this phase is over," Melinda Bryan said.

The matter of custody of the couple's two children is still to be resolved. In a hearing Tuesday afternoon, a family court judge terminated Ben Lightsey's parental rights. The Bryans have petitioned for custody, but the children have stayed with the fraternal grandparents since their mother was killed.

The next hearing in the case was set for April.

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