WATERLOO, Iowa ---Jack Wendell Pursel said God has forgiven him for torturing and killing an elderly Waterloo couple in 1981.
But relatives of Robert and Goldie Huntbach said they aren’t ready to forgive.
Pursel, a 66-year-old California resident who confessed in May to the double slaying that had been unsolved for decades, formally pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in Black Hawk County District Court Thursday afternoon.
About a dozen relatives of the Huntbachs were present, and a grandson and granddaughter of the victims spoke of the years of pain that followed the horrific crime.
“Some day you will face another judge ... He will hear you, and there will be a sentencing. What that sentence will be, nobody knows. But if I had any input or any say in that, may your eternal life burn in hell,” the grandson told Pursel.
The two grandchildren, now adults, didn’t give their full names in court but were identified as Pam Giles and Kevin West in Courier archives.
The granddaughter told Pursel to rot in prison and said she wished Iowa had the death penalty for murder.
Instead, Judge Brad Harris sentenced Pursel to life in prison without parole, which is the mandatory punishment under state law.
Pursel — a truck driver who had known a relative of the Huntbachs in 1981 and then fled the state after the slayings and spent time in a California prison for a sex crime — said he is a born-again Christian and threw himself on the mercy of the court and his victims’ family.
“I was forgiven of the sins of murder because I repented and was remorseful,” said Pursel, who entered the courtroom dressed in a suit and carrying a Bible among loose sheets of paper.
When he spoke, it was in hushed tones that frequently meandered into Scripture. Harris interjected three times to keep him on track.
“I’m not the same person today that I was,” said Pursel, who said he denied any role in the killings when approached by Waterloo police in the 1980s but found God while behind bars.
“In 1992, I was about to be paroled, but two months before that happened, God spoke to me. I didn’t hear voices in my head, but he spoke to my heart, and he said go and preach the word of God,” he said.
He said he rebelled after he was let out, but later picked up his dust-covered Bible and began reading.
Authorities said Pursel flew to Iowa last month, arrived at the police station unannounced and admitted to the murders. He was arrested May 9, and made no attempts to fight the charges. He entered a written plea to both counts in a document signed June 1.
Black Hawk County Attorney Tom Ferguson called the crime “vicious, brutal, horrific, diabolical and without conscience.”
The couple was found bound and shot in their Waterloo home, and there was evidence they had been shocked with an electric cattle prod.
Ferguson said Pursel claimed he was robbing the Huntbachs and decided to kill them when they recognized his voice. But Ferguson said his actions spoke of revenge.
“They speak of the intention to inflict pain and heartache on members of the extended family,” Ferguson said. He declined to elaborate.
“I don’t believe anyone of us can imagine the sheer horror, fear and emotional anguish that Goldie and Robert experienced ... To lie helpless, hear shots fired, believing your life partner has just been executed, knowing you couldn’t do anything, and knowing that you are next is indescribable,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said Pursel allegedly took $5,000 to $6,000 during the crime, and Public Defender Aaron Hawbaker provided authorities with information how to access Pursel’s assets to collect restitution.
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