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In this file photo, an Ontario Provincial Police officer leads Jesse Imeson (left) to a plane at the Arnprior, Ont., airport on Aug. 1, 2007. Imeson pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder in the slayings of three people. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

An Ontario man who killed three people and then led police on a week-long manhunt pleaded guilty Monday to charges of second-degree murder and was sentenced to life without parole for 25 years.

Jesse Imeson had been charged with three counts of first-degree murder for the strangling of a student in Windsor, Ont., and for the shooting deaths of an elderly couple in southwestern Ontario.

"Their deaths represent an enormous loss," Ontario Superior Court Judge Roland Haines said in sentencing Imeson.

The killings were "savage and senseless," Haines added.

Imeson was sentenced to life without parole for 15 years for strangling to death 25-year-old Windsor architectural student Carlos Rivera in July 2007. Rivera's body was found in a room Imeson had rented at a boarding house in Windsor.

Days later, Helene and William Regier, 73 and 72 respectively, were found shot to death at their farmhouse near Dashwood, Ont., and officials linked Imeson to their deaths as well. He was sentenced to life without parole for 25 years for the murders of the Regiers, a condition demanded by the Crown as part of the plea deal.

Monday's plea bargain came as Imeson's trial was set to start in Ontario Superior Court in Goderich, Ont.

Imeson apology 'hollow': victims' relatives

Imeson appeared to show few signs of remorse at his court appearance, smirking occasionally as family members of the victims read statements detailing how their losses had affected their lives.

"Our lives were shattered," said Carol Denomy, daughter of the Regiers. "It was sudden, violent, undeserved and defenceless."

About 100 people were in court, some of whom sobbed audibly as family members talked about the impact the killings had on their lives.

In his statement, one of Rivera's brothers said that "Carlos, in a way, helped take a demon out of society."

Hands shackled at his waist, Imeson told the court he had nothing to say, but his lawyer read a statement on his behalf in which the killer said he was "very sorry," an apology relatives of his victims denounced as "hollow."

"I will be an old man before I am released, if I ever am," the statement read. "I am truly sorry. Please forgive me."

Shortly after his capture in July 2007, Imeson told an undercover cop that he had no regrets about killing Rivera, a man he had met just hours before the murder.

As for the Regiers, he later said: "What's to know? Shots were fired. People died."

Huron County Crown attorney Robert Morris and defence lawyer Don Crawford had earlier told CBC News that they expected the case to be resolved on Monday.

Imeson had previously waived his right to a preliminary hearing in all three deaths.

Imeson captured in July 2007

Imeson, 23, was captured near the Quebec-Ontario border after he led police on an eight-day manhunt across Ontario.

The U.S. TV program America's Most Wanted also joined in the manhunt  by listing Imeson as a top fugitive on its website.

Quebec authorities received a call from a resident of Portage-du-Fort who spotted a suspicious figure inside a neighbouring cottage. Police later arrested Imeson in dense bush near the Ottawa River without a struggle.

Police said he had two rifles in his possession.

With files from Carey Marsden and the Canadian Press