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A 25-year-old Billings woman pleaded guilty Monday in District Court to a reduced charge in the stabbing death last year of her boyfriend, Seth Drinkwalter.

Emily Marie James admitted to mitigated deliberate homicide for the fatal encounter last Feb. 8. James also pleaded guilty to felony tampering. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for March 23.

James initially was charged with deliberate homicide, but a plea agreement called for prosecutors to amend the charge to mitigated homicide. The lesser charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 40 years.

While pleading guilty, James told Judge Gregory Todd with the help of defense attorney Erik Moore that the stabbing happened after she and Drinkwalter became involved in a physical confrontation.

The fight put her into "extreme emotional distress … and ultimately you stabbed him. Is that correct?" Moore asked James.

"Yes, I did," a tearful James responded.

As part of the agreement, prosecutors will ask that James receive a 40-year prison sentence. Moore will be free to ask for a lesser prison term.

Prosecutors will also ask that James be designated a persistent felony offender, which carries a prison sentence enhancement of two to 100 years. State prison records show James was convicted of a felony bad-check offense in Dawson County in 2004. She received a 36-month deferred sentence, but later violated probation and was given a 2-year prison sentence with some time suspended.

James remains in the county jail on $250,000 bond. A trial in the murder case had been scheduled to begin next week.

The tampering charge accused James and a neighbor, James Swank, of hiding the murder weapon when officers arrived. Swank pleaded guilty to felony tampering and last week received a sentence of three years to the state Department of Corrections.

James initially told police that a stranger stabbed Drinkwalter at an apartment on Second Avenue South. She later told investigators that the two were arguing and that he yelled at her to "just stab me," court records state. James said she grabbed a steak knife and stabbed Drinkwalter.

Drinkwalter, 30, was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy showed he died of a stab wound that pierced his left lung, aorta and pericardial sac.

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