WASHINGTON — The man charged with the abduction and murder of 12-year-old Sheila and 10-year-old Katherine Lyon is expected to enter a guilty plea in the decades-old case, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
Lloyd Lee Welch, 60, was set to go on trial on Tuesday for the girls’ murders in Bedford County, Virginia — 240 miles away from Wheaton Plaza, where the young sisters were last seen on March 25, 1975.
A plea hearing is now set for Tuesday instead, according to court records.
Several sources said Welch is set to admit his role in the girls’ deaths and that he sexually assaulted a young girl in 1996 in Prince William County.
WTOP has learned that as part of the plea arrangement, Welch will accept a sentence of life in prison, rather than risk a trial in which he could be sentenced to death.
In addition, Welch is expected to plead guilty to the Prince William County charges. He was indicted earlier this year on charges of rape, object penetration, indecent liberties and aggravated sexual assault.
Plea negotiations have been underway for months.
Prosecutors and Welch’s defense attorneys declined to confirm or deny that he planned to enter a global plea Tuesday.
The disappearance of the Lyon sisters — the daughters of WMAL radio broadcaster John Lyon, and his wife, Mary — had terrified the nation’s capital and marked what many saw as a turning point in attitudes regarding child safety and vulnerability.
In 2013, after almost four decades of frustration and few productive leads, Montgomery County detectives began focusing on Welch, a former carnival worker, who in 1975 lived in Hyattsville, 10 miles from Wheaton Plaza.
Two days after the sisters disappeared, a friend of the Lyon sisters, who WTOP has referred to as Darlene, provided information to a Montgomery County detective for a composite sketch.
Darlene said she was with the sisters at the plaza, and saw a 20-ish man leering at them and following them.
Based on Darlene’s description, the detective’s sketch showed a white male, approximately 5-feet-11 and weighing 140 pounds, with long hair and acne scars.
WTOP has reported that sketch was never made public in 1975, nor widely distributed through the department, in part because the detective who drew it told his supervisor he didn’t think the sketch was accurate and would generate false leads.
Instead, a different composite sketch, based on a description of a neighbor of the Lyons, was made public by police. The sketch, showed an older, well-dressed man, who had supposedly coaxed the young girls to speak into a microphone and cassette recorder.
Soon after the sketch of “tape-recorder man,” as it came to be known, was made public, Welch approached a security guard in Wheaton Plaza, and said he had been there the day the Lyon sisters disappeared, and described seeing them leave with man matching the description of “tape recorder man.”
Montgomery County detectives gave Welch a lie-detector test, which he failed.
Apparently detectives did not review Darlene’s eyewitness description or composite sketch, because Welch was released. At the time, police believed he was trying to get the $9,000 reward being offered in connection to the Lyon case.
Decades later, when Montgomery County detectives saw that sketch again in 2013, and noted its resemblance to Welch’s 1977 Montgomery County mug shot for a burglary near Wheaton Plaza, police sought to re-interview Welch.
Detectives learned Welch was serving a 29-year-sentence in a Delaware prison for child sex assault convictions, and had a similar conviction in South Carolina.
Welch was publicly identified as a person of interest in the Lyon sisters case in 2014.
According to court filings, Montgomery County detectives interviewed Welch at least eight times while he was serving time in Delaware.
During interviews with police, Welch’s stories shifted from denying he was involved in the girls’ kidnapping and killings, to blaming his relatives, to stating that he helped plan the kidnapping.
Prosecutors believe Welch brought the girls’ bodies in bloody duffel bags to Welch family property in remote Bedford County in the spring of 1975, and burned their bodies in a fire. The girls’ remains have never been found.
Welch was indicted by a multi-jurisdictional grand jury in July 2015, charged with two counts of first-degree felony murder during an abduction with the intent to defile.