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Handyman Pleads Guilty to Killing Sara Anne Wood

October 26, 1996

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ A convicted child killer admitted Friday that he murdered a 12-year-old girl who disappeared in 1993 while riding her bicycle home from her father’s church.

In surprise move, Lewis Lent Jr. pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Sara Anne Wood and will receive 25 years to life in prison.

Lent, a 45-year-old former handyman and movie theater janitor from North Adams, Mass., had strung New York authorities and Sara’s parents along since his arrest in January 1994.

He pleaded innocent in June to charges of kidnapping and killing Sara, who disappeared Aug. 18, 1993, while walking her bicycle home in Frankfort, about 55 miles east of Syracuse.

Her pink and white bike was found lying in a ditch along the road. Crayons and papers were strewn about the bike. There were no other clues.

Some five million fliers bearing the photo of the smiling brown-haired, blue-eyed Sara in her cheerleading outfit, holding a pompom above her head, were posted across the country.

Sara’s body has never been found, although police launched a massive search for her in the Adirondack Mountains in the winter of 1994. Police based their search on a crude map Lent reportedly drew for them.

Sara’s parents, who founded a rescue center for missing children and lobbied for child protection laws since their daughter’s disappearance, were ``in a state of shock″ after learning of Lent’s guilty plea.

``They have lot of ambivalent feelings about it, obviously,″ said Gay-Leclerc Quader, executive director of the Mohawk Valley Chapter of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in New Hartford _ once called the Sara Anne Wood Rescue Center.

``Our position, really, is that we don’t want to have to go through what would be a very painful trial for everyone,″ she said.

Lent’s change of heart Friday was a mystery. He had previously arranged to plead guilty in the case on Oct. 16, but changed his mind when he arrived in court.

District Attorney Michael Daley had said he would agree to no plea bargains with Lent unless he leads authorities to her remains, but it was unclear Friday if Lent had given Daley any new information.

Lent has been held in the Herkimer County Jail without bail since June after pleading guilty in Massachusetts to killing 12-year-old Jimmy Bernardo of Pittsfield, Mass. He faces life in prison in connection with that conviction.

He already was serving a sentence of 17 to 22 years for attempting to kidnap a 12-year-old Pittsfield girl in January 1994. It was after Lent’s arrest in that case that he admitted to carrying out the abduction-murders of Sara and Jimmy. He later said he was bullied by police into false confessions.

Lent will be sentenced in the Wood case in early January, with his sentence running concurrently with the Massachusetts sentences, said Joe Mahoney, a spokesman for New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco.

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