Professional hitman Kenneth Murdock is safely back in jail today after pleading guilty to three counts of second-degree murder, all involving bigtime Ontario mobsters.

Kenneth Murdock, 35, told a Hamilton courtroom yesterday he killed Johnny (Pops) Papalia and two of Papalia's cohorts, Carmen Barillaro and Salvatore Alaimo. Murdock was sentenced to life imprisonment, with no parole for 13 years.

Murdock was charged, tried and convicted of the murders on the same day for security reasons, Crown attorney David Carr told court. Murdock agreed to the quick justice because of reports that a hitman was gunning for him

Murdock was already serving time for extortion and assault at the Hamilton Wentworth Regional Detention centre.

Two other men have been charged with first-degree murder in connection with Papalia's slaying. They are Pasquale Musitano, 31, and his brother Angelo, 21, the sons of mobster Domenic Musitano. Papalia was 73 years old when he was executed gangland-style in May, 1997.

A statement of fact by Murdock and the Crown describes the Papalia hit in terms that would be appropriate for any mobster movie. It reads, in part:

" the conversation ended Papalia began to walk away. At this point, Murdock produced the gun, moved behind Papalia, placed the gun to Papalia's head, looked away and fired the gun. Murdock believes that the muzzle of the gun [.38-calibre handgun] actually touched Papalia's head."

Papalia was reputed to be Ontario's top mob figure when he was shot to death 18 months ago.

James Dubro, a documentary film producer and author of several books on organized crime says the mafia is a real threat in Ontario communities, but the arrests take some of the power from the underworld.