Man sentenced in death of father, stepmom
It brought Judy Ward some solace to learn Wednesday that the man who killed her sister and brother-in-law may spend the rest of his life in prison.
But the sentencing of Colin Abbott on third-degree murder charges in the death of his father and stepmother couldn't tell her what she's been desperate to know for nearly two years: Why?
The family was expecting a trial, which was slated for next month. Without one, the details of what happened that day are, at least for now, sealed behind bars with their only witness.
"It's still unsettling," said Ms. Ward, reached by phone Wednesday. "No one knows why someone would hurt my sister."
Abbott, 42, a former New Jersey landscaper, pleaded no contest Tuesday to killing Kenneth, 65, and Celeste Abbott, 55, whose remains were found scattered on their sprawling, bucolic plot of land in Brady, near Slippery Rock in July 2011.
In a quiet courtroom at the Butler County Courthouse on Wednesday, a judge decided before a roomful of the couple's relatives that Abbott should go to prison for 35 to 80 years -- what prosecutors considered essentially a life sentence.
"In my mind, we got justice for the family," Butler County district attorney Richard Goldinger said. "We got this guy off the streets for the rest of his life."
With this plea, Abbott also circumvented the death penalty, which prosecutors planned to seek had the case gone to trial.
During the brief sentencing hearing, Abbott spoke only to address the judge's direct questions.
He wept as his attorney, Wendy Williams, explained that Abbott would not speak on his own behalf.
"He is unable to speak for himself today because of the regret he feels for the situation and what he has put his family through," she said.
Abbott did not admit to killing the couple, but pleaded no contest because he didn't want to put his mother and stepsisters through the ordeal of a trial, Ms. Williams said.
Because of that, she declined to discuss "what actually occurred" but did say the deaths were not premeditated.
"That would truly make him a monster, and that's not Colin Abbott in his heart," she said. "His regret is very genuine, and his feelings for his family -- his sorrow for his family and his stepsisters -- is very real."
Before the sentencing, attorney Thomas King provided a statement on behalf of Kenneth Abbott's family. The successful businessman, who worked for the massive pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert, loved Slippery Rock and enjoyed spending time on his farm, Mr. King said.
The couple's deaths will affect their families for the rest of their lives, he told the judge.
"The impact is immeasurable and permanent," he said.
Eileen Whiting also delivered a victim impact statement to the judge. She said she last talked to her sister, Celeste, on June 5, 2011.
"I didn't know it was the last time I would be able to talk to her," Ms. Whiting said.
In what authorities called an elaborate ploy, Abbott told relatives his father and stepmother died in a fiery car crash in New Jersey.
He told them Celeste Abbott had been burned beyond recognition, prompting one grief-stricken sister to place an obituary in the local newspaper.
Abbott said he would file the insurance claim and have their bodies cremated, promising to spread the ashes around their estate. But his story began to unravel when he couldn't produce a death certificate, offered relatives scarce and conflicting details of the accident and seemed uncomfortable under questioning.
As the details emerged, the family learned the deaths weren't an accident.
"Our family was destroyed all over again," Ms. Whiting said.
Abbott claimed he stood to inherit all of the couple's possessions, including their expansive plot of land. After he was charged, Kenneth Abbott's sister, Kathleen Neal, asked the court to block Colin Abbott's access to his father's accounts, alleging that the son forged his father's signature on a check to transfer $499,000 from one bank account to another, then withdrew the money from the latter account, among other things.
Prosecutors suggested after his arrest that money and greed were among the motivations.
Relatives were unavailable or did not wish to speak to reporters immediately after the sentencing.
Ms. Ward, of Albion, N.Y., was unable to attend the sentencing hearing but learned the news via her family. Several relatives were present for the decision but made an agreement not to talk with news media, Ms. Ward said.
Ms. Ward said when the pair wed, Celeste Abbott helped her husband reconnect with his son, with whom he had a difficult relationship.
"She felt family values were important and wanted him to reconcile with his son," she said.
• Visit post-gazette.com for video of defense attorney Wendy Williams talking about her client's sentencing.
First Published February 28, 2013 12:00 am