WEST CHESTER - Kerry and Katherine Schadler were expecting their first child when they were murdered 15 months ago.
"They were at the beginning of their lives," Katherine's brother, Jeremy Richard, said through tears Tuesday.
The Schadlers were killed because a gang of robbers led by Michael McGrory believed the couple had gone to the police with incriminating information.
Joshua Sheeler, a member of the gang that committed at least nine armed robberies across the state, had bragged about the crimes to the Schadlers. Sheeler flashed money in front of the Pottstown couple, and even made up a story about a $5,000 reward on his head.
Then, when the gang, which also included Travis Drumheller and Ian Taylor, got together at a Pottstown bar Nov. 21, 2002, Sheeler got paranoid, according to court documents.
He convinced the other men the Schadlers had been talking to police. They were after the reward, Sheeler argued.
McGrory left the bar with Matthew Eshbach, who is Drumheller's uncle. Eshbach was not part of the gang, but volunteered to go with McGrory to keep his nephew out of trouble, so to speak. Drumheller was, at the time, awaiting trial on homicide by vehicle charges in connection with a drag-racing incident that happened the previous summer.
Prosecutors said McGrory and Eshbach left the bar to find out what the Schadlers knew, if they had talked to police, and to make sure they didn't talk anymore.
When he confessed three days later, McGrory would learn that the Schadlers had refused to cooperate with police. And there was no reward.
For the Schadlers, it was too late. For their families, it was unthinkable.
"Words escape me," Jeremy Richard said. "How a man could do this to a woman, to a pregnant woman, how he could do it to another human being," his voice trails off as he chokes back tears. "He stole countless memories from us."
Chester County District Attorney Joseph Carroll had planned to seek the death penalty against McGrory. His case was strong, and the aggravating factors that allow for execution were abundant, according to prosecutors:
The murders were committed during the commission of a felony - the Schadlers were kidnapped from their Pottstown apartment and strangled in Chester County.
McGrory has an extensive violent criminal history.
The murders were committed to silence witnesses to other crimes.
Katherine Schadler was 6 months pregnant when she was killed.
If a jury agreed with any of these factors, McGrory could have been looking at execution. Carroll said he felt confident about the case, but that won't matter now.
Carroll offered McGrory a deal: Plead guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and get life in prison without the possibility of parole.
McGrory agreed to the deal Tuesday. He asked for one condition, that he not be placed in the same prison as two men he bumped into at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility a few months back.
McGrory's lawyer, Stuart Paintin, said putting McGrory in the same prison as the two men would put his client in danger. The judge agreed to McGrory's condition, but let him know the ultimate decision on where he spends the rest of his life will be decided by a prison warden, not the courts.
Before signing the deal, McGrory was given a chance to address the 14 loved ones of Kerry and Katherine Schadler who attended the hearing.
Speaking in a calm voice, choking up at times but not giving in to tears, McGrory told his audience he has thought about this moment for 15 months.
"I wish I could change things, but I can't," he said. "I pray that God can forgive me for the things I've done, and I pray he can put peace in your hearts. I am truthfully, honestly sorry."
The family, however, wasn't moved.
"The Bible says to forgive, but it also says an eye for an eye," Katherine's mother, Elizabeth Richard, said after the hearing. "He's only sorry for himself, not for what he's done."
McGrory has agreed to the deal, but he won't be sentenced until he completes his end of the bargain. Carroll stipulated that McGrory must testify against his co-defendant, Matthew Eshbach, when Eshbach goes to trial in April.
If McGrory does not testify, or does not do so truthfully, the deal will be withdrawn and he will be forced to fight for his life before a jury.
The families of the victims are pleased with the outcome of the case. They gathered in Carroll's office after the hearing and thanked the district attorney, the detectives and everyone else involved.
They said executing McGrory was not what they had been after. They wanted justice, and justice, in their minds, will take a long time.
"I only have one picture of my grandchild and it's an ultrasound," Elizabeth Richard said, referring to Katherine Schadler's unborn child. "I don't want him to die; I want him to suffer."