AUBURN — A former Auburn Correctional Facility inmate who previously denied a dead body in the murder case against him even existed, pleaded guilty in Cayuga County Court Thursday to his second murder.

Escorted into court by five state corrections officers, Rupert Alberga, 37, already serving a 24-years-to-life sentence for a 2014 second-degree murder conviction, pleaded guilty before Judge Thomas Leone to second-degree murder, with a sentence of 15 years to life, in connection to the death of fellow inmate Daniel Wingate.

While held in Auburn Correctional in 2017, Alberga, along with co-defendant Ashton Bellamy, entered Wingate's cell and attacked him in retaliation for having called Bellamy a racial slur, Cayuga County Assistant District Attorney Christopher Valdina said in previous hearings.

Bellamy pleaded guilty in February to second-degree assault while in a correctional facility.

In previous hearings, Alberga denied there was a dead body in his case, claiming, according to Defense Attorney Joseph Sapio in previous hearings, autopsy results were fabricated. Despite entering a guilty plea Thursday, Alberga appeared to still hold onto that belief.

During the allocution, Leone asked if Alberga admitted that the attack caused Wingate's death.

"That's what I heard," Alberga replied, prompting Leone to tell the defendant he would need to hear something "a little more concrete" in order to accept the plea.

Leone eventually accepted Alberga's admission after District Attorney Jon Budelmann successfully asked him to admit he repeatedly stomped and kicked Wingate's head, and Defense Attorney Joseph Sapio said his client's comment referred to his initial disbelief that Wingate had died.

The plea reduced two first-degree murder charges, one for committing the crime while having a prior conviction and the other for doing so while serving a life sentence, in exchange for Alberga withdrawing a request for a competency exam to determine whether he qualified as an incapacitated person.

Sentencing for Alberga was scheduled for 9:15 a.m. on July 25. With the plea already in place, Alberga asked the judge if he could be sentenced in absentia.

In December, Alberga had refused to attend a proceeding on his case, and only attended a January proceeding after a force order to bring him to court was issued.

"I just hate this whole process," Alberga said.

Leone said he would examine the legality of such a request, but would attempt to do so if possible. Otherwise, he would again issue a force order to bring Alberga to his sentencing.

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin