An Asheville-area man pleaded guilty Friday to stabbing his 6-year-old daughter to death on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Seth Willis Pickering, 38, of Leicester pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to the first-degree murder of his daughter, Lila, in September 2016. Under a plea agreement District Judge Max Cogburn Jr. accepted, Pickering will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Pickering killed his daughter in front of two U.S. Park Service rangers, the U.S. Attorney’s office said after his arrest.
Pickering had brought his daughter to the Asheville area from Florida the year before she died, his estranged wife told Asheville’s Citizen-Times. Lila had been placed in another home after Pickering was involved in a dispute, Ashley Pickering told the news site, but she never believed the girl was in danger.
“He was the most loving father and Lila worshiped the ground he walked on. She loved her daddy so much,” Ashley Pickering said. “She would jump in his lap and smile and laugh and be so happy when he was holding her.”
On Sept. 9, 2016, Pickering took his daughter from a person who had temporary custody of her, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has said.
Early that evening, a pair of Park Service rangers noticed a Dodge Avenger parked on a shoulder of the parkway and stopped to investigate. That part of the parkway, mile 393, overlooks the French Broad River and is near the lush plant life and trails of the North Carolina Arboretum.
The rangers saw Pickering and his child walking down a steep embankment and, WLOS quoted a criminal complaint as saying, saw Pickering cut brush and start a small fire.
As one of the rangers approached, Pickering suddenly turned and stabbed the girl. The rangers apprehended Pickering and administered first aid to the girl, but she died at the scene. An autopsy found she died from a stab wound to the heart and left lung.
Questioned by rangers, WLOS reported, the complaint said Pickering told them, “Now they will never be able to take her from me.” He added that she’s “happier now.” Pickering later told Buncombe County deputies that his child had made him promise she would never again be taken from him.
“Our hearts go out to Lila’s family. No action by the criminal justice system can soothe the pain of their loss,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray said Friday in announcing the plea.
“This is an outcome reached after consideration of all the facts and circumstances of this case. By allowing the defendant to plead guilty and serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole, we will spare the family the trauma of a lengthy trial and decades of appeals. We hope this resolution brings some comfort to the family of Lila Pickering.”