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Man who faked own death pleads guilty

By
BILLY G. JAMES

CANTON, Miss. -- A former Jackson city commissioner accused of faking his own death to cover mounting financial troubles pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the slaying of a victim whose identity remains unknown.

Edward L. Cates, 55, had been scheduled to go on trial next week on a capital murder charge in the bizarre case. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison Friday on the reduced charge.

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Authorities said the identity of the man whose charred body was found last spring in Cates' burned-out car remained a mystery, even after the guilty plea.

Madison County Sheriff Billy Noble said Cates never identified the victim or gave investigators any information concerning the man's death.

'He hasn't told us anything,' said chief investigator Bob Bailey, who arrested Cates.

Cates showed little emotion as he went before Madison County Circuit Judge Robert Goza to enter the guilty plea under a plea bargain worked out by attorneys.

Asked if he had anything to say, Cates replied: 'I am indeed sorry. I apologize to the court, my family, and other people in the law profession.'

Cates, a Jackson attorney, also is expected to plead guilty to an embezzlement charge in Hinds County.

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Cates was believed to have died last spring and received a full military funeral after his burned car was found May 14 on a lonely road near Canton, a few miles north of Jackson. The charred body had been identified as that of Cates.

On June 9, Cates was found living in an apartment in Lawrenceville, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, where he had claimed to be a retired army general named Christopher Curts.

Officers traced him to Georgia after Cates' wife began receiving money orders from a man named 'Curts' and turned them over to her attorney. He gave them to investigators.

Cates was brought back to Mississippi and indicted in October by a Madison County grand jury on charges of capital murder and arson.

The body in Cates' grave was exhumed and sent to a Florida pathologist who reported the victim was a white male, between 35 and 55 years old. Efforts to identify the man were unsuccessful.

Cates also was indicted in Hinds County on charges of embezzling $233,000 from a local farm cooperative for which he had handled some legal matters. Prosecutors maintained he faked his death in an effort to cover his involvement in the embezzlement.

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The murder charge against Cates apparently was based largely on circumstantial evidence, and there had been speculation the prosecution might have a difficult time linking the defendant directly to the fire that destroyed his car.

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