Key witness cops plea |

Key witness cops plea

At first a suspected murder accomplice, David C. Leffingwell became a key murder witness Tuesday after pleading no contest to voluntary manslaughter for last summer’s beating death of James Vannberg.

Teary-eyed as family members sobbed, Leffingwell repeatedly said “Yes, your honor” to a series of questions by Judge John Darlington regarding the plea agreement.

The conviction carries a prison term of three, six or 11 years, the judge said. Sentencing was tentatively set for March 25.

His lawyer, Michael Phillips, said the plea agreement requires Leffingwell to testify at the murder trial of co-defendant David A. Burke II. And the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Ron Wolfson, all but guaranteed the case is going to trial.

Leffingwell, appearing heavier than at his first appearance in July, entered his plea during a morning intermission of Burke’s preliminary hearing.

Leffingwell, 24, and Burke, 24, shared the same campsite at the South Yuba Campground where the 26-year-old Vannberg allegedly was beaten with a crowbar before he was driven roughly a mile away, beaten some more and left to die.

Tuesday’s testimony suggested Leffingwell never struck Vannberg, but followed Burke’s alleged orders out of fear.

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