WESTFIELD - Seventeen years after pleading guilty to killing Jimmy Bernardo of Pittsfield, Lewis Lent Jr. has confessed to murdering a Westfield boy who disappeared 21 years ago and claims he placed the body in a pond in Becket.
At a news conference in Westfield on Monday, law enforcement authorities said Lent, a former North Adams resident, had confessed to killing 16-year-old James "Jamie" Lusher of Westfield, who disappeared on Nov. 6, 1992, while riding his bicycle to his grandmother's house in Blandford.
Lent also told law enforcement authorities that he put Lusher's body in Greenwater Pond in Becket, which is located on Route 20 just over the town line with Lee. With assistance from New York State Police, the Massachusetts State Police underwater recovery unit will begin a three-day search of the pond for Lusher's remains on Tuesday, State Police Col. Timothy B. Alben said.
Alben said recovery efforts would be "meticulous," but said the passage of time, the 88-acre size of the area, and the pond's depth, which is 58 feet in some places, will make the search difficult.
"I want to temper this by saying this is an enormous challenge," Alben said. "Because we're talking about such a long passage of time, I think we have to be realistic about what we might recover or not.
"We remain hopeful and optimistic," he said. "But I think we have to be realistic as well."
Lent, 62, is currently serving a life sentence without parole in Bridgewater State Prison for killing the 12-year-old Bernardo in 1990 and an additional sentence for killing 12-year-old Sarah Ann Wood of Frankfurt, N.Y., in 1993.
Lent was arrested in January 1994 shortly after he tried but failed to abduct a 12-year-old Pittsfield girl. Lent pleaded guilty in 1996 to killing Bernardo and in 1997 to killing Wood, Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless said.
Bernardo's body was found, but authorities have been unable to find Wood's body despite numerous searches at the location Lent claimed he had left her remains.
Hampden County District Attorney Mark G. Mastroianni said authorities are "concerned" that Lent could be leading them on another fruitless search similar to the one for Wood's body. But he said investigators have tried to meticulously collaborate all of the information that he's given them in the Lusher case.
"This is the same thing we've considered every time this came about," said Westfield Police Captain Michael McCabe, one of the lead investigators on the case. "When we did the investigation this time, there were specific indicators to us that may be this was the time that Lent wanted to clear his conscience and give us a broader understanding of what happened.
"We've spoken to the Lusher family several times about the possibilities that we might not get what we're looking for," McCabe continued. "But there were indications this time that this might not be the case."
Mastroianni said Lent agreed to provide the most recent information to McCabe and State Police Lt. Steve Griffin if authorities agreed not to prosecute him for Lusher's murder. Authorities decided that if Lent's information was accurate, they would not prosecute him because Lent is already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
"That determination was made after significant consultation with the investigators and Mr. Capeless," Mastroianni said.
Although Lusher was abducted outside of Berkshire County, Mastroianni said Capeless and state police officers assigned to the Berkshire District Attorney's office, provided "very detailed and long background investigations involving the disappearances of young children in the 1990s in Berkshire County and similarities to Jamie's case in Westfield."
Capeless extended his "heartfelt sympathy" to the Lusher family members who attended the news conference, and thanked them for their "perseverance and patience throughout these many years."
"My sincere hopes are that these measures will bring some sense of healing to their already broken hearts and souls," Capeless said.
Jennifer Nowak, James Lusher's sister, also thanked law enforcement authorities for their efforts.
"My brother, Jamie, was a unique individual," Nowak said. "He was kind of like a little spark that if you didn't catch it right, then you missed something awesome."
During his 1996 trial for the slaying of Jimmy Bernardo, prosecutors say Lent had a "master plan" to kidnap children for sex and hide them in his apartment.