COCKE COUNTY - A man accused of killing a Cocke County woman and hiding her remains in 2016 pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Monday.
McKinley Cody, 21, is accused of killing Lora Costner, who disappeared in January 2016. Her body was found two months later on property belonging to Cody's family.
Cody was arraigned on charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, robbery and abuse of a corpse in May 2016.
On Monday, he entered a guilty plea to second-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. The first-degree murder and robbery charges were dismissed as part of the plea deal.
Cody will serve at least 30 years in prison for murder. He will spend three years for the abuse of a corpse charge, which is concurrent with his 30 year sentence. The judge also gave Cody an eight-year suspended sentence for a previous charge of attempting to smuggle drugs into the Cocke County Jail.
The suspended sentence means the charge can be brought back if Cody exhibits bad behavior during his sentence.
Costner's daughter said no plea deal could amount to the value of her mom's life, but she's able to find closure with the resolution of the case.
"On Jan. 7, 2016, you decided that you would end my mom's life. And for that, you have changed all of our lives," Molly Costner said during an emotional statement on the witness stand.
"I hope that you get to live every day of your life knowing what you did to me and my family," she said.
Molly Costner and her 11-year-old brother are now left without either of their parents. The day after their mother went missing was the fourth anniversary of their father's death.
That's why while no amount of prison time could amount to the value of their mother's life, Molly Costner says she's eager to move on, for her own sake and that of her little brother.
"He needs to be focusing on what sport he's going to play or what video game he's going to play when he gets home. He does not need to focus on whether his mommy's killer is going to go free or not," she said.
An autopsy showed Costner died of blunt force trauma to the head. The report said it appeared her killer tried to burn the body to conceal evidence.
Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes said Costner may have been killed for her prescription drugs. In May, McKinley was appointed an attorney, public defender Nicholas Kerr. There was some difficulty in finding at attorney for McKinley without a conflict because of numerous previous criminal cases against him as well as current criminal conspiracy charges.
He and his mother, former E-911 director Kathy Cody, were charged with attempting to smuggle drugs into the Cocke County Jail.
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