Colin Abbott files document seeking to withdraw plea in Butler County homicides
A New Jersey man imprisoned for the murders of his father and stepmother in Butler County had a change of heart about pleading no contest, but a legal expert says he's unlikely to succeed with a request for trial.
Colin Abbott, 42, of Randolph, N.J., on Monday filed a handwritten, five-page request with Common Pleas Court to withdraw his February plea in the 2011 murders in his parents' estate in Brady.
His lawyer, Wendy Williams, said she has been unable to visit Abbott since his transfer on Thursday to SCI Pittsburgh.
“I still represent him unless and until a judge signs an order taking me off the case,” said Williams, with whom Abbott had described disagreements.
Abbott claims in his motion, dated March 6, that he entered his plea under duress and believed he had 10 days to withdraw it.
Judge William Shaffer, who sentenced Abbot to 35 to 80 years in prison, scheduled a hearing on his request for May 18, his office said.
Abbott claimed that Williams told him that the judge would allow him only one day to decide about the no-contest plea and give him no time to talk with family, he said.
“Moments before the defendant was to be sentenced, the defendant acknowledged to his attorney that he was having second thoughts,” Abbott wrote.
Butler County District Attorney Richard Goldinger said his office had not received Abbott's motion and could not comment.
Eileen Whiting of Albion, N.Y., Celeste Abbott's sister, said the motion disappointed but did not surprise her.
“I don't think it will go anywhere. I am satisfied that he's off the street and will never do this to another family,” Whiting said. “This just goes along with the rest of his life that we've seen so far. He has trouble being truthful about anything. Why would you enter a plea and try to change it three weeks later?”
Abbott avoided a possible death sentence with his no-contest plea to two counts of third-degree murder on Feb. 26. Shaffer sentenced him on the next day.
Trying to withdraw a plea after sentencing is unusual, said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor who teaches law at St. Vincent College in Unity.
“As a general rule, it is very difficult for a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea after a sentence. He would have to allege a very serious defect in the proceedings. He is also asking to go to trial with a charge of first-degree mur der,” Antkowiak said.
Abbott faced the death penalty if he were convicted at trial.
With plea agreements, judges typically are clear and methodical about advising defendants of their rights, such as the right to go to trial and the maximum sentence, Antkowiak said. Questions from the judge would be on the record, he said.
“The first thing an appellate court would do would be to look at a transcript and see if there was any defect,” he said.
Prosecutors said Abbott killed Kenneth and Celeste Abbott in July 2011 and scattered their burned remains on their property. He killed the couple to hide thefts of large amounts of money and to make himself the estate's primary heir, prosecutors contended.
Abbott told relatives that his father and stepmother died in a traffic crash in New Jersey, according to court documents. When family members asked for details, police in New Jersey had no record of an accident.
Within days of the Abbotts' deaths, paperwork from Kenneth Abbott's safety deposit box surfaced, showing he had changed his will in 2010 to make Colin Abbott the sole beneficiary of the estate.
Because of the slayings, the Abbotts' estates remain unsettled.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for TribTotal Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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