Updated: Friday, 05 Nov 2010, 4:21 PM MDT
Published : Friday, 05 Nov 2010, 12:38 PM MDT
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Bella Gonzales admitted Monday she hid the body of murdered APS teacher Ellen Roth in her home before it was buried in the Jemez Mountains.
In a plea agreement, Gonzales pleaded guilty to felony counts of conspiracy to tamper with evidence and tampering with evidence. She will be sentenced to 4 1/2 years probation.
The state agreed not to send Gonzales to prison and to drop two other charges in exchange for her cooperation in cases against the three people charged with Roth's murder.
"This is a critical witness who is able to step up and say," I know what happened, and I'm willing to do the right thing now. I'm taking responsibility for what happened,'" Pat Davis, spokesman for District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, said.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney's office says she has also been cooperating with the Albuquerque police investigation.
Investigators believe Ellen Roth's daughter-in-law, Cathleen Roth, and her friends James Johnson and Christopher Donovan murdered the school teacher in May 2009, after she reported her son, Bryan Roth, to police for stealing and using her credit cards.
Her body was found in September 2009 in the Jemez Mountains. The Office of the Medical Investigator said she died from asphyxiation.
Cathleen Roth, Johnson and Donovan all remain in jail awaiting trial for the murder on $1 million cash-only bonds.
Investigators have said they believe Bryan Roth was also involved, but he was in jail on a probation violation at the time and is not charged in connection to the murder. He is currently living with his father in Arkansas and waiting for an appeals court decision on a fraud case.
"We're not going to tip our hat as to what she might tell us and what the investigation might uncover," said Davis. "But certainly, the possibility in the plea agreement exists that she's going to testify against anyone already charged or any unindicted co-conspirators if an investigation reveals they need to be charged."
The state is counting on Gonzales's testimony to help close the case and bringing closure to family and friends of Ellen Roth.
"She has a big cloud hanging over her head," said Davis. "She has a lot of obligations to follow through to help everyone else move this process forward."
If Gonzales violates her probation at any time, she could be sent to prison and still have to testify.