Montana drifter gets life in prison for Ark. rest stop slaying

MORRILTON, Ark. (AP) - A drifter who raped and killed a New Jersey woman at an Interstate 40 rest stop in 2000 was sentenced today to life in prison.

Twenty-five-year-old Kristin Laurite was traveling across the country in August 2000 when she stopped at a rest area just east of Morrilton. Ward pleaded no contest Tuesday. At a sentencing hearing today, Ward's public defender John Irwin said his client knew he would not receive the Laurite family's forgiveness but "would ask the forgiveness of the Lord."

The victim's mother Lynn DiBenedetto told Ward in Conway County Circuit Court today -- quote -- "It is you now who will become the prey." Ward shed tears while DiBenedetto testified.

Ward, already an inmate at a Montana prison for another murder, will likely not serve time in Arkansas. He is serving life plus ten years in Montana. Prosecutors say he could be brought to Arkansas if he is ever released from his Montana sentence.

Ward claims he doesn't remember committing the murder, which he blames on his drug abuse.

Laurite left her New Jersey home on a trip to Eureka, California, planning to take a job at a day-care center along California's north coast. By August 25th, 2000, she had made it to Arkansas, stopping her yellow 1972 Volkswagen van at the rest stop along I-40 to splash water on her face and let her two dogs play at a nearby pond.

The next day, Laurite's dogs led officers to her body near the pond. She had been stabbed repeatedly and sexually assaulted.

The rest stop, where another murder occurred three years earlier, was closed by the state. Laurite's family put up a billboard along the well-traveled highway with a picture of the slain young woman. The image remained up for years, with the plea: "Do you know who murdered me?"

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)