DOYLESTOWN, Pa. -

A Bucks County man now admits he murdered an elderly veteran by stabbing him at least 71 times.

In a surprise move, Dale Wakefield pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Thursday afternoon, in spite of a history of mental illness.

As deputies led Wakefield away, reporters asked why he opted for a plea bargain.

"Didn't want the death penalty," he replied.

Wakefield stabbed George Mohr, 71, a homeless veteran who suffered from schizophrenia, at a Doylestown train station. It happened on Wakefield's 21st birthday last July, after a night of bar-hopping.

The victim allegedly asked Wakefield for money.

"This was a strong first-degree murder case," said Michelle Henry, Bucks County assistant district attorney. "He stabbed George Mohr 71 times in his facial areas."

The plea deal still means Wakefield will spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole.

Wakefield also pleaded guilty to violently attacking a fellow inmate in February, while he was awaiting trial.

Defense lawyers reached the deal even though Wakefield has a history of mental illness, including a serious brain injury he suffered as a teenager.

They left the courthouse Thursday without answering questions about why they opted not to take their chances at an October trial, and perhaps get a lesser conviction.

"Today's plea is important because it ensures the community's safety," said Henry. "As a result of what happened today, Dale Wakefield will remain behind bars for the rest of his life."

In court, Wakefield apologized.

"I am sorry for what happened," he told the judge. "I am remorseful and I do take accountability for this."

None of Wakefield's family or friends showed up for court. His only supporters were two members of Doylestown's Main Street Baptist Church.

"We just want to support him," said church member Pat Lyford. "He feels very badly. I'm sure this young man would take it all back in a heartbeat if he could. It's just so tragic. We grieve for him."

Mohr's sister, Kathy Driscoll, called the victim a "kind, generous, caring" man. She tearfully told the judge about her brother's Army service and subsequent battles with schizophrenia.

"My brother is at peace," Driscoll said. "I am struggling to find peace."

Driscoll also thanked Wakefield's sister, who turned him into police and even allowed detectives to record phone conversations with her brother.

After the murder, Wakefield fled to a Baltimore motel.

Along with the life sentence for first-degree murder, Judge Rea Boylan also sentenced Wakefield to five-and-a-half to 20 years for the jail assault. Another assault conviction will run concurrently.