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Former FBI Agent Pleads Guilty To Slaying Kentucky Woman

June 13, 1990 GMT

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ A former FBI agent who solved a year-old homicide by confessing to the crime pleaded guilty Tuesday to strangling a pregnant informant with whom he’d been having an affair. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

In a signed confession, Mark Putnam said he choked Susan Daniels Smith, 27, on June 8, 1989, ″in an act of extreme rage″ while the couple arued over support of her expected child.

Putnam, 30, of Sunrise, Fla., entered a guilty plea to one count of felony manslaughter in Ms. Smith’s death.

Immediately after the hearing, Putnam was handcuffed and taken into custody by Kentucky State Police officers.

It was apparently the first case in FBI history in which an agent had been charged with a homicide, said Terry O’Connor, the FBI’s top agent in Kentucky.

″As far as the FBI is concerned, this is a difficult day ... but I would hope that our entire record ... is what’s going to govern the way that people think about the FBI,″ O’Connor said.

The victim’s family expressed outrage they were not consulted in the drafting of Putnam’s plea bargain. They had wanted him to stand trial for murder.

The victim’s sister, Shelby Ward of Freeburn, was cited for trying to conceal a .38-caliber handgun in the courtroom by Kentucky State Police, and was released.

Putnam appeared tense during his 20-minute appearance in Pike County Circuit Court.

Putnam, who resigned Friday, worked in Pikeville for about two years until his transfer to Miami in May 1989. He used Ms. Smith as an informant in a bank robbery and car theft case.

Putnam’s confession was attached to an indictment returned Tuesday by the Pike County grand jury. In the statement, he recalled a bitter, violent argument with Ms. Smith about her pregnancy. Putnam had returned to Pikeville for several days to work a car theft case he had investigated.

Ms. Smith ″kept telling me the baby was mine and that she was going to ‘hang me’ over this. She said she would tell the FBI, my family and the newspapers,″ Putnam’s statement said.

The couple was driving on a rural eastern Kentucky highway at the time and pulled off the road at Peter Creek Mountain. Putnam said he and his wife would adopt the child but Ms. Smith refused, and began slapping Putnam.

The agent recalled that ″in an act of extreme rage ... I started choking her and telling her to shut up.″ Putnam said he tried in vain to revive her.

He said he placed the body in the trunk of his rented car and dumped it the following evening off an old coal mine road about nine miles north of Pikeville.

Prosecutor John Paul Runyon, the Pike County commonwealth’s attorney, said that without Putnam’s June 4 confession, ″we had absolutely no evidence. Not one scintilla or shred of evidence to bring a charge or convict this man.″

″In the 28 years that I have been a prosecutor, this is the first experience that I have had where a lawyer called me on a telephone and said I have a man who wants to confess to murder, or homicide, and wants to go to the penitentiary, and we had absolutely no evidence,″ Runyon added.