This story was published in The Modesto Bee on May 27, 1999.
Less than two weeks before his trial was to begin, Scott Avery Fizzell admitted Wednesday that he was responsible for a Modesto slaying that had baffled police for nearly a decade.
Fizzell, as part of an agreement reached with the Stanislaus County district attorney, pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree murder and burglary in the March 1988 killing of Deborah Ann "Debi" Whit-lock.
In return, prosecutor Doug Fontan asked the court to dismiss a rape charge against Fizzell, 28, as well as a host of special-circumstance allegations.
The plea agreement upset Whitlock's mother, Jacque MacDonald, who led a tireless crusade to keep her daughter's slaying in the public eye long after leads in the case had gone cold.
"Doug Fontan is a good man, and I'm sure he felt he was doing the right thing," MacDonald said, "but as the mother of a murdered daughter, a daughter who was butchered, I can't agree."
Fontan declined to discuss Wednesday's plea agreement, MacDonald's reaction or other aspects of the case because Fizzell has not been sentenced. Superior Court Judge Al Girolami set a June 22 sentencing hearing.
More than 11 years have passed since the 32-year-old Whitlock was found dead in a hallway at her north Modesto home. Her body was discovered by her husband, Harold Whitlock, who was not home when his wife was stabbed repeatedly and raped. The couple's 3-year-old daughter slept through the attack.
Fizzell, who was 18 at the time of the murder and lived in Modesto with his mother and stepfather, was arrested in January 1997 in Flippin, Ark., a small town about 90 miles north of Little Rock.
Homicide investigators had been stymied until an anonymous tipster, someone who once was acquainted with Fizzell, came forward in late 1996 and told authorities what he knew about the murder. He furnished police a first name, Scott, that proved to be the big break in the case.