02/11/04 — Alleged murderer pleads guilty

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Alleged murderer pleads guilty

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 11, 2004 2:02 PM

KENANSVILLE -- A man charged with killing a woman and burning her car near Faison has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Duplin County Superior Court.

Jimmy Lee Cashwell, 34, also pleaded guilty to felony burning of personal property when he admitted to murdering Andrea McKenzie-Woodlock, 42, of Wade, N.C. Under the negotiated plea agreement, Judge Gary E. Trawick of Pender County sentenced Cashwell to life without parole.

Mary Bledsole, 54, of Warsaw pleaded guilty Monday to burning of personal property and was sentenced to a minimum of five months and a maximum of six months in prison.

Her lawyer was Garret Ludlum of Duplin County. Cashwell was represented by Rick Miller of Wilmington and Kevin Heckart of Burgaw. Chief Assistant District Attorney Ernie Lee represented the state.

The evidence

On April 28, 2002, Andrea Mckenzie-Woodlock was scheduled to travel to Chicago to visit relatives, prosecutors said.

On May 6, the relatives reported that they had not seen Ms. McKenzie-Woodlock in Chicago. Ms. McKenzie-Woodlock's son reported her missing to the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department.

On May 10, the Duplin County Sheriff's Department found a burned 2002 Chevrolet Blazer owned by Ms. McKenzie-Woodlock in woods near Faison. Phone records showed that she had received a call from Cashwell around April 27 on her cell phone, and she had called him back.

On May 16, law enforcement contacted Cashwell and his girlfriend, Mary Westrook Bledsole. It was determined that Cashwell, Ms. Bledsole and the victim had known each other in Cumberland County through previous employment.

Ms. Bledsole told law enforcement that on April 29, Cashell drove a blue Chevrolet Blazer to a cemetery near Faison, and she was told by Cashwell to stand by the road. She said she remained by the road while Cashwell appeared to bury something near the cemetery. She was driving another vehicle. He then instructed her to follow him to woods near Faison where he burned the Blazer.

She then drove Cashwell away. She later took officers to the site where Ms. McKenzie-Woodlock was buried. Cashwell wrote letters to Ms. Bledsole that placed him with the victim at the time of the murder, although Cashwell indicated in those letters that the killing occurred as a result of a drug transaction and implied self-defense.

District Attorney Dewey Hudson said Ms. Bledsole was instrumental in helping to solve the murder.

The autopsy concluded that cause of death was undetermined, but Hudson said the circumstances surrounding the death are consistent with murder. It is most likely, according to the autopsy report, that Ms. McKenzie-Woodlock died from asphyxiation.

Cashwell has a previous conviction for robbery with a dangerous weapon in Bladen County in which he received a sentence of 25 years. He was convicted of indecent liberties with a minor and breaking and entering in September 1988 in Bladen County.

Ms. Bledsole has no previous criminal convictions.

The state initially was seeking the death penalty against Cashwell. Hudson said the only witness to the offenses is Ms. Bledsole. "The state is also aware that Cashwell intended to introduce evidence of mental retardation with an alleged IQ of 64, which is below the IQ level set by state statute allowing execution."

The plea accepted in the Cashwell case means that the case will not be appealed, and Cashwell will serve the rest of his life in prison, "so that he will not be a threat to others," Hudson said.