A former Wild Animal Park employee pleaded guilty Thursday to the murder of a co-worker with whom he'd had an affair, according to 10News. The stunning plea came after opening statements in the bench trial of Patrick Hamilton (pictured, left), 44. Hamilton admitted murdering Denise Vasseur last year. The defendant also promised to help find her body, which has been missing since Sept. 22, 2000. The morning began with the prosecutor, David Hendren, and the defense attorney, Patrick Hall, summarizing their theories of the case to Superior Court Judge John Einhorn. Hendren said that Hamilton secretly watched 31-year-old Vasseur "getting romantic" with her estranged husband. Hours later, Hendren said that he killed her and hid the body. Hendren told the judge that Vasseur (pictured, right) never made it to the Wild Animal Park that day "because Mr. Hamilton squeezed the life out of her." "Mr. Hamilton stalked Mrs. Vasseur the night before," the prosecutor said. The couple's affair was over, Hendren theorized, and Hamilton was upset. In separate phone calls, Hamilton told two co-workers and his brother that he went to the Vasseur residence in Oceanside and watched the British native "messing around" with her husband, Marine Staff Sgt. Charles Vasseur. The defendant flagged her down in her vehicle the next morning and strangled her, Hendren said. He then drove her Honda minivan back to somewhere near her house and then made a call to her home to establish an alibi, according to the prosecutor. Then "he hid her body and deprived us of having the evidence of her body," Hendren said. "I did it. I killed her. I strangled Denise," Hendren quoted the defendant as saying after his arrest in Northern California, where he allegedly fled with his passport and "a lot of money." "It was not self-defense. It was more like an accident," Hendren quoted Hamilton telling a detective. But Hamilton's attorney claimed that his client neither planned nor committed murder. Hall said that Vasseur led two lives that "sometimes intertwined." She lied about the nature of her relationships, he said, and made conflicting statements about her mental state. That September, she and the defendant were still trying to get a grant to conduct research together in Africa, Hall said. Ten days before she disappeared, she bought a book of erotica for the defendant, Hall said, and kept equipment related to her master's thesis research stored in Hamilton's closet. They continued to have a "loving, caring relationship," Hall said, adding that there was "no premeditation, no deliberation" and no murder. But after the opening statements, Hamilton acknowledged that he had killed her when he pleaded guilty to the murder charge.
- August 17, 2001: Judge Won't Dismiss Animal Park Murder Case