PINCKNEYVILLE, Ill. (AP) – A Maine man who admitted strangling his girlfriend then drowning her six-year-old daughter in a bathtub will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Perry County Circuit Court Judge James Campanella sentenced Jason E. Cook, 29, of Portland to two consecutive sentences of life in prison without parole after Cook pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder.

Cook was faced with the possibility that he would be sentenced to death if convicted at trial.

“This is for eternity,” Campanella told Cook while ensuring he understood the consequences of the plea. “You cannot get out.”

Cook was charged with killing Sheila K. Sims, 26, and her daughter Erika.

State’s Attorney David Stanton said family members found the two dead in their Du Quoin apartment on May 19, 2002.

Sims’ other child, 2-year-old Jacob Bealer, was found unharmed in a playpen.

Cook moved from Maine to live with Sims in Illinois after they met through a telephone chat service for singles. He was not the father of either of the children and was considered a prime suspect early on in the investigation.

He was arrested while trying to catch a bus for Maine after the bodies were discovered.

Stanton said Cook provided investigators with a videotaped statement after his arrest, describing how he smothered and choked Sheila Sims to death.

Cook also explained how on the following morning he helped Sims’ daughter wash shampoo from her hair before holding her head underwater until she died, Stanton said.

Defense attorney James Stern of Belleville said after the hearing that his client “often expressed remorse” for the crime.

“We think it was the right thing to do and we thank God the victims’ families OK’d this,” Stern said of the plea agreement.

In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss charges of unlawful possession of contraband and conspiracy to escape.

Those charges were filed earlier this year after guards at the Perry County Jail foiled an escape attempt being planned by Cook and two other inmates.

AP-ES-07-30-03 0642EDT

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