Mark Douglas Hacking, the Salt Lake husband who acted grief-stricken last summer over his missing wife while a huge manhunt was under way, admitted Friday to killing his wife, 27-year-old Lori Soares Hacking.

"Never in my wildest nightmares I thought I'd hear her husband say he intentionally shot her like he did today," a tearful Thelma Soares, Lori's mother, told members of the media after the hearing.

Eraldo Soares, Lori's father, said hearing Hacking admit that he killed his daughter was "like a knife going right through my heart."

Hacking, 28, handcuffed and in a tan jail jumpsuit, appeared amid heavy security before 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg. He pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder in exchange for the dismissal of three counts of second-degree felony obstruction of justice.

Speaking in a subdued voice in a courtroom packed with relatives and reporters, an impassive Hacking answered, "Yes, your honor" and "No, your honor" to the judge's questions.

Lindberg, at one point, called on Hacking to state the facts in his own words.

Hacking responded in a flat voice: "Your honor, I intentionally shot Lori Hacking in the head with a .22 rifle on July 19, 2004."

'A lot of questions'

Lori's brother, Paul Soares, said seeing Hacking in court Friday was "horrible."

"It's not fair one person can impact so many lives," he said.

But members of Lori's family said Friday that they were relieved Hacking had finally taken responsibility for his actions.

"I personally did not want to go through a trial," Thelma Soares said.

Still, Soares said the case wasn't completely over yet for her.

Holding a picture of Lori and a package of tissues, Soares tearfully told members of the media that she still needed to talk face-to-face with Hacking.

"A lot of questions have never been addressed I need to ask Mark about," she said. "I have way more questions than any of you do."

Soares said the top question on her list was simply, "Why?"

"I want to know why he did this. He will have to tell me that," she said. "I need to know the answers to a lot of questions."

Paul Soares echoed those sentiments, saying his sister's murder didn't make any sense.

"Why? Why did this have to happen?" he asked tearfully.

Sentencing set

Sentencing was set for June 6. The penalty is five years to life in prison, with an extra year added for use of a firearm in the crime. Parole is possible. Prosecutor Robert Stott said Hacking will go to prison with this plea.

However, Utah has "indeterminate sentencing," which means the exact length of Hacking's sentence will ultimately be decided by the state Board of Pardons and Parole.

Salt Lake County District Attorney David Yocom said immediately after the hearing that he had asked both the Hacking and Soares families, as well as police, not to discuss specifics of the case because Hacking has 30 days to rescind his guilty plea.

Eraldo Soares' hands shook as he addressed the large throng of media who gathered outside the courtroom.

Soares, who was one of the first to publicly call on Hacking to come clean about what happened to his daughter, said he looks forward to sentencing. He said he will leave sentencing in the hands of the justice system, adding that he prayed each night that the judge would do the right thing.

"I don't feel sorry for him," he said of his son-in-law.

When asked what he would like the sentence to be in a "perfect world," Soares simply said, "I don't think I'd like to see Mark at all in a perfect world," and left it at that.

In the courtroom

Security was tight, with nine uniformed deputies inside the courtroom and five outside, and seating areas were assigned for the Hacking and Soares families as well as the media.

Hacking's parents, Douglas and Janet Hacking, were present in the courtroom during Friday's hearing but left through a back door to avoid reporters.

Both Lori's family and prosecutors praised the Salt Lake City Police Department for putting together such a strong case.

Detective Dwayne Baird said a lot of hours went into piecing the evidence together.

"We're happy this hearing came about this way," he said. "We knew early on we had a pretty strong case. We had a good solid case."

A web of lies

Lori Soares Hacking was reported missing July 19, 2004, by her husband, who said she headed out early in the morning to jog in Memory Grove. A massive search began for her and, during that time, Mark Hacking spoke to reporters about his missing wife in what appeared to be an emotion-choked voice.

Early information also indicated she had just learned she was pregnant by her husband of five years.

Two days later, Mark Hacking was picked up by police answering a "disturbance call" at the Chase Suite Hotel, where sources said Mark Hacking was naked except for sandals and was acting strangely. He was checked into a psychiatric unit at the University of Utah Medical Center, where he stayed for a week.

Public support for Mark Hacking waned after Hacking's father, Douglas, revealed that Salt Lake police had told the Hacking and Soares families that Mark Hacking had deceived them about his education, his future and his life.

Apparently spinning an elaborate web of lies, it became clear Mark Hacking never graduated from the University of Utah, despite pretending to be a student for two years. Later, police also found Hacking had not been accepted into medical school in North Carolina, even though he told family and friends otherwise and the couple was in the process of packing to move to the East.

"We believe that Mark Hacking is responsible for her disappearance and her death," Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said shortly after Mark Hacking was arrested on Aug. 2.

Documents filed in 3rd District Court Aug. 9 charging Mark Hacking with four felonies show his brothers, Lance and Scott, had visited him at the University of Utah psychiatric hospital July 24, where Mark Hacking confessed to killing his wife.

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Meanwhile, the search for Lori Soares Hacking's body shifted to a public landfill after police came to believe Mark Hacking dumped her body into a trash container. Local law enforcement officers accompanied by cadaver dogs plowed painstakingly through tons of garbage during hot summer nights before discovering her body Oct. 1. The state medical examiner used dental records to make a positive identification. An autopsy of the decomposed body provided scant information about the cause of death and whether she was pregnant.

Thelma Soares on Aug. 20 announced the creation of a scholarship fund in her daughter's memory to assist students attending the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business. Thelma Soares appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show Sept. 14, where she accepted $50,000 for the fund from the television star.


E-mail: lindat@desnews.com; preavy@desnews.com