Sex offender 'pleading guilty' to 1975 murder of young sisters

A convicted sex offender accused of murdering two young sisters who disappeared from a Maryland shopping centre is expected to plead guilty to the crime that has haunted the area for more than 40 years.

Lloyd Welch, 60, was due to to stand trial on Tuesday for the murder of Sheila Lyon, 12, and her sister Katherine, 10 - but online court records in Bedford County, Virginia, indicate it has been "withdrawn" and a plea hearing is scheduled instead.

The Washington Post, citing sources familiar with the plea negotiations, said Welch planned to plead guilty.

Prosecutors and Welch's lawyers would not comment, citing a gagging order issued in the case.

The Lyon sisters disappeared on March 25 1975, after walking from their home in the suburbs of Washington DC, to Wheaton Plaza to have pizza with friends during the school holidays.

Cold-case detectives took a fresh look at Welch beginning in 2013 after finding a sketch in the case file of a man who resembled a 1977 photo of him.

Welch, a former carnival worker, who was charged two years ago over the killings, was already in prison in Delaware, having pleaded guilty in 1998 to molesting a 10-year-old girl.

If convicted at trial in Bedford of two counts of first-degree felony murder during "the commission of abduction with the intent to defile", he faced the possibility of the death penalty.

Welch was prosecuted in Bedford because authorities believe he dumped the girls' bodies there, on a remote mountain where his family owned land.

But without recovering the girls' bodies, prosecutors may have had a difficult time proving their case at a trial.

In interviews with police from 2013, Welch acknowledged he was at the mall the day the girls disappeared, and said he believed they had been "abducted, raped and burned up", according to court documents.

Any plea deal would not be final until Welch appears before a judge and agrees to the terms. The deal would also need the judge's approval.

The Post said the plea agreement also would resolve two unrelated sexual assault cases in Prince William County in northern Virginia.

In 2016, Welch was indicted there for the rape of a six-year-old girl in 1996.

Earlier this year, he was indicted for allegedly sexually abusing another girl about the same time.

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