Man pleads guilty to slaying of former Pitt star

Updated: October 30, 2003, 12:56 AM ET

WASHINGTON, Pa. -- A man was sentenced to 18 to 36 years in prison after pleading guilty to killing former University of Pittsburgh football star Jo Jo Heath by stabbing him 26 times with Heath's own knife.

Jason Allen Benner, 29, of Charleroi, pleaded guilty Wednesday to third-degree murder in the Dec. 30 death of the 45-year-old Heath. Before he was sentenced, Benner apologized to Heath's family.

"Since my arrest, I wanted to end my life. I am responsible for Jo Jo Heath's death and no word will be able to say how sorry I am," Benner said. "I don't want no more people getting hurt. I'm ready for my punishment."

Heath starred for the Panthers as a four-year letterman from 1976-79. He was a defensive back on Pitt's 1976 national championship team and captained the 1979 squad that went 11-1 and finished ranked No. 7 by The Associated Press. Heath played briefly with the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles, and in the Canadian Football League.

He last played as a strike replacement player for the New York Jets in 1987, and since had a record of drug and theft arrests.

Police said Benner told them that he owed Heath $100 for drugs and the two argued over the debt before Heath pulled a knife and cut Benner's finger, after which Benner got control of the knife and stabbed Heath. Benner said he drove Heath's car to a wooded area and put Heath's body there, then walked home.

Benner also pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an escape attempt and assaulting a guard at the Washington County Jail. He was sentenced to an additional three months to a year in prison on those charges.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index