William Walsh leaves Nassau County Court, Thursday, after pleading guilty...

William Walsh leaves Nassau County Court, Thursday, after pleading guilty to murdering his wife, Leah Walsh. (May 20, 2010) Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Bethpage man who made phony public pleas for his missing wife's return admitted in court Thursday that he strangled her during an argument about his infidelity, dumped her body and then covered up his actions.

William Walsh, 31, pleaded guilty in Nassau County Court to second-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. In exchange for Walsh's guilty plea, Judge David J. Ayres is expected to sentence him to 18 years to life on June 23. If convicted after a trial, Walsh would have faced 25 years to life for the murder charge.

Walsh's attorney, William Petrillo of Rockville Centre, told Ayres that while he didn't recommend his client accept the plea arrangement, Walsh has a "genuine and sincere desire" to spare the victim's family from the ordeal of a trial.

Leah Walsh, 29, was a special-education teacher.

Her mother, Mathilda Hirschel, sat in the front row of the courtroom, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief while William Walsh described what happened in the early morning hours of Oct. 26, 2008.

"I arrived home from Atlantic City," he said. "I was influenced by alcohol and marijuana."

The couple argued about an affair Walsh was having with a woman named Maryann, he said, and then he put his wife into a choke hold.

Walsh paused, seeming to have difficulty continuing.

"I truly am sorry," he said.

When Assistant District Attorney Michael Walsh, who is not related to Walsh, asked him if he intended to kill Leah Walsh when he choked her, he replied that he "blacked out." He then conceded that it was his intention to kill her.

"After he choked her, he stabbed her twice in the neck to make it look like a robbery," the prosecutor said before the proceeding.

In court, William Walsh replied "yes" to a series of questions from the prosecutor, describing how he dumped her body in the woods in North Hills; threw out the paring knife he used to stab her; and deflated one of the tires on her car, which he left on the side of the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway, to make it look like she had a flat.

The knife has not been recovered, the prosecutor said.

Days after the killing, Walsh played the role of distraught husband and begged the public for help in finding his wife. He even packed a lunch for her to make it appear she had been home in the morning and created loving text messages from her cell phone.

The guilty plea comes after pretrial hearings were conducted and attorneys were prepared to move forward with a trial. In February, the judge ruled that Walsh's statements to police, including his full confession, would be admitted at trial.

The prosecutor said the victim's family members were consulted when Walsh offered to plead guilty and that they did a lot of "soul-searching" before deciding to accept it.

"They would rather agree to this plea and this sentence than to be put through a lengthy trial," the prosecutor said.

Leah Walsh's mother, father, Howard Hirschel, and brother, Josh Hirschel, declined to comment after the proceeding. William Walsh's relatives were not in the courtroom.

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