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Man pleads guilty to killing, will avoid death penalty

FILE – This undated file photo provided by Catholic Diocese Prison Ministry see Donald Fell, sentenced to death for the killing of Terry King of North Clarendon, Vt., who was abducted in 2000 when she came to work at a Rutland supermarket. Fell, whose conviction in 2005, was later dismissed due to juror misconduct, is expected to plead guilty Friday, Sept. 28, 2018, in exchange for life in prison without parole. (Catholic Diocese Prison Ministry via AP, File)

RUTLAND, Vt. – Nearly two decades after he was indicted for the kidnapping and killing of a Vermont supermarket worker, a man pleaded guilty Friday in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

Donald Fell, 38, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The plea deal ended an 18-year quest by the federal prosecutors to have Fell running.

With no emotion, he pleaded guilty to the four charges in the 2000 abduction and murder of Terry King, whose family sat in the crowded courtroom was, and wanted to Fell put to death. Fell declined to comment during his sentencing.

The Prosecutor of the V. S. for Vermont Christina Nolan said the U.S. attorney general’s office in August directed prosecutors not to seek the death penalty. She said while there is never a good closure of the case, a dangerous man will never be free to commit senseless violence.

“This is an incredibly solemn day,” she said. “This is not a good end. And there was never going to be good end to this case because Terry King died in a brutal way, a terrifying way, a pointless way and her family was suffering unspeakable grief, and they have for 18 years and they will continue to suffer unspeakable sadness.”

Prosecutors say that on Nov. 27, 2000, Fell, now 38, and friend Robert Lee killed Fell’s mother and her boyfriend in an apartment in Rutland. Fell and Lee then kidnapped Terry King, a 53-year-old North Clarendon grandmother, when they came early in the morning for work at a Rutland supermarket because she wanted her car to escape Vermont. The king was killed later in the day along the side of the road in New York state.

Lee hanged himself in prison in 2001.

U. S. District Judge Geoffrey Crawford said the crime was one of the most severe in Vermont in decades. The kidnapping and murder of the King “was an act of cruelty and brutality,” he said. A life sentence without the possibility of release “provides just punishment, even for crimes as cruel and unjust as this,” he said, adding that the punishment is consistent with Vermont’s longstanding sentencing practices and our community of values.”

Fell was previously convicted in 2005 and sentenced to death, but the conviction and the sentence were discarded because they overstep. Vermont is not a state, the death penalty, but Fell was charged and tried under federal law.

Fell of the agreement to a plea deal came as he faced a new trial in the death penalty case.

Fell has repeatedly offered to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison, but so far prosecutors have refused the offer, insisting that he face the death penalty.

The punishment would not meet the family of the King, described as a loving mother and grandmother, who came from a large, loving and hard working Rutland family. They wanted him put to death, and the name of the justice broken.

“These 18 years has been an endless nightmare for my family,” said sister Barbara Tuttle. “This plea deal is absolutely not what we wanted for an outcome,” she said, adding that the case “is a total embarrassment to our federal justice.”

“The only thing we can hope is that this subhuman will end up in a deep dark hole and that every day and night of his life is the worst that can be,” she said.

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This story was corrected to remove an incorrect sentence from the last quote.

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