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Suspect in Guerneville killing puts blame on partner

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A 38-year-old Englishman who agreed to spend the next 32 years behind bars for a 2009 Guerneville slaying said Monday he didn't do it — but he knows who did.

Andrew Sharkey said he admitted a first-degree murder charge in the strangulation of Michael Van Tillman, 67, because he didn't want to risk life without parole if convicted at trial.

In a jail house interview, Sharkey named his marijuana business partner, Gary Scott, 58, as the person who slipped a steel wire around Tillman's neck. The killing occurred, he said, while the two men stole $45,000 in cash Tillman kept in a dresser drawer.

Sharkey said prosecutors incorrectly charged Scott as an accessory in exchange for help in making their case against him. Scott, who will be sentenced Friday, is not expected to get any jail time.

"I feel enraged," Sharkey said through a plate glass window in the jail's high-security wing. "The guy's walking free who committed murder and I agreed to a deal of 32 years and six months in prison."

But Chief Deputy District Attorney Diana Gomez said she's confident Sharkey is the killer. Physical evidence proves he's the only person who entered Tillman's converted garage apartment the afternoon of the slaying.

Scott learned of the killing later and was charged as an accessory for helping Sharkey hide Tillman's car, she said.

Sharkey admitted using a garrote as part of his plea, Gomez said.

"We stand by what we believe," Gomez said. "And we believe Mr. Sharkey is the killer. We don't believe his version of the facts. His story does not comport to the physical evidence."

Scott's lawyer, Evan Zelig, put it more bluntly.

"If I was in his position I would be saying the same thing," Zelig said. "The reality is, my client had absolutely nothing to do with the homicide."

What's not disputed is that Sharkey and Scott were operating a lucrative marijuana growing operation in the building adjacent to Tillman's apartment.

Sharkey, who emigrated to America 20 years earlier, was living in Rio Nido with a girlfriend and her kids. With landlord Ernie Rogers' approval, according to Sharkey, he started growing pot that he sold to a man in Los Angeles for tens of thousands of dollars a month.

At one point, he said Rogers told them Tillman stockpiled cash in his home because he didn't believe in banks. Scott, who had been homeless, persuaded Sharkey to help him steal it.

On June 23, 2009, Scott entered the apartment at about 3:30 p.m. and distracted Tillman while Sharkey rifled through bedroom drawers and found the money in a green plastic box, he said.

Sharkey said he went to the kitchen to signal to Scott he was ready to leave. He saw Scott standing behind Tillman's chair with his hands near the man's neck, he said.

He didn't think anything of it until the two were headed down the road and Sharkey worried they might get caught.

"He said, &‘Don't worry about Michael. He won't know anything's missing.' He took care of that," Sharkey said.

Concerned something happened, Sharkey said he returned to the scene the next day and found Tillman dead in the chair. He said Scott suggested he tell police the landlord did it, so he did.

But when he went to the Sheriff's Office a few days later, he was arrested. Scott had phoned in a tip that Sharkey did it.

Investigators agreed. A judge determined the charges were warranted at a preliminary hearing.

On the eve of trial, prosecutors offered to drop special circumstances in exchange for his no contest plea.

Under the terms of the agreement, he can't appeal and must serve 100 percent of his prison sentence.

Sharkey said he understands that he is legally guilty of murder because he was committing robbery when someone was killed. But he said he is factually innocent.

"I didn't kill Michael Tillman," Sharkey said. "I felt strong-armed into committing the robbery against my better judgment. I believe Gary Scott is the perpetrator."

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