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Vt. man pleads guilty to rape, kidnap, murder

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- A local man admitted yesterday that he kidnapped, raped, beat, and strangled Laura Winterbottom, 31, more than two years ago, resolving a case that shattered a community that believed it had been immune from such violent, random crime.

Gerald Montgomery, 35, agreed to plead guilty and serve 43 years to life in prison in exchange for a promise by prosecutors not to seek an aggravated murder charge, which carries an automatic sentence of life without parole.

Montgomery, in chains and wearing a gray sweat shirt and white knit cap, said: "I don't have any right of speaking. What I did to Winterbottom was unhuman."

"I'd give my life for hers," he told the judge, apologizing and saying he is tormented every morning and night by the crime.

Winterbottom's parents described their daughter in court and their torment over her death at the hands of a man they called "a monster."

"He's an evil man," mother Joann Winterbottom, of Bedford, N.Y., said in court. ". . . Even his death would give me little satisfaction.

"We are lost without Laura. We have no more memories without Laura," she said, her voice wavering.

The body of Winterbottom, a freelance graphic designer, was found in the back seat of her car parked in Burlington's Old North End, on March 9, 2005, the day after she had been abducted in downtown Burlington.

She was last seen alive when she left a bar around 9:15 p.m. on March 8 after having dinner with her sister.

Montgomery, a convicted sex offender, was arrested nearly two weeks later, after police matched Montgomery's DNA to that of semen found in Winterbottom's body, on her clothes, and in her car.

Deputy Chittenden County State's Attorney Mary Morrissey said in court that if the case had gone to trial the charges would have been upgraded to aggravated murder.

"It is one of the most egregious crimes this community has ever experienced," she said.

Winterbottom had been repeatedly sexually assaulted in two locations, strangled, and beaten with a blunt object, she said.