Confessed killer William Steven Howard, a former resident of Salt Lake City, didn't get the death penalty he requested, but he says his life sentence means he can now sleep at night for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Howard was sentenced Friday to life in prison for a brutal rape-murder that probably would have gone unsolved if he hadn't come forward while living in Salt Lake City."Saying I was sorry wasn't enough," said Howard, 51, in a jailhouse interview with The Arizona Republic.

Howard had asked Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Anna Baca to give him the death penalty for the murder of Catherine Davis Newton in 1968. However, the death penalty was not in effect when the murder occurred, so he was sentenced instead to life in prison.

"I just wanted to confess and get it off my conscience," Howard said. "That way I can say I paid for my sins, all my sins. Since I pleaded guilty, I can sleep."

Newton, 61, was found in her apartment on Dec. 15, 1968. Known for her beauty and style, Newton was found with her head bashed in and a letter opener protruding from her back.

Howard told police he met Newton while he was out on bail for another crime and saw a "For Rent" sign on her apartment. During their conversation, he asked her if she wanted to have sex, court records show. When she acted insulted, he grabbed her by the throat and squeezed until she was unconscious. He then dragged her into the bedroom, raped her and stomped on her head four times.

When Howard realized Newton still had a pulse, he stabbed her with a letter opener. The former debutante lived in the hospital four days before she died of her injuries.

After spending 23 years in and out of prison for robberies, Howard walked last year into a mission in Salt Lake City, where he dedicated his life to God. But he said the images of the crime scene continued to flash through his mind.

He struggled for months before calling the Salt Lake police from a restaurant.

"God knows I'm clean now," he said. "I'm forgiven, and I can feel it."