Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Thomas Montgomery: Bizarre Love Triangle

Prosecuting and Pleas

The volume of material through which both attorneys had to sift delayed the case, but it looked to prosecutors like an easy one. Montgomery's best defense lay in his daughters' statements that he was out to dinner with them at the time of the murder. He claimed that Barrett was getting threatening calls at work from a host of enemies and that one of them must have done it. Molloy's only strategy beyond that was to hope he could establish that Montgomery made his statements without consent or that the investigators didn't have a proper warrant to search his computer.

To speed things along, in July 2007 prosecutors offered Montgomery a plea deal in which he'd get a 20 year minimum sentence if he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter—rather than the 15 to 25 years he'd get if he were tried and found guilty.

Erie County Assistant District Attorney Frank Sedita
Erie County Assistant District Attorney Frank Sedita

Erie County Assistant District Attorney Frank Sedita warned this was his last chance to take a plea. Montgomery refused.

But, in August 2007, Montgomery did in fact take the bargain and pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Investigators say evidence against him changed his mind.

Montgomery had refused to provide a DNA sample during the investigation, but he accidentally gave cops one anyway. He requested something to drink during questioning. Detectives gave him some Mountain Dew. When Montgomery left the can behind, investigators were able to swab DNA from it. The DNA matched that on the peach pit that officers found at the scene of the crime.

They'd also found that the dog hair on that leather cartridge case at the scene seemed to match Montgomery's dog, Shadow, something they confirmed by eavesdropping on a call between Montgomery and his wife.

In October, on the day he was to be sentenced, though, a gaunt and scruffy Montgomery retracted his plea. He said that his attorneys had coerced him into the plea, and that he'd believed it was in the best interest of his daughters; he'd wanted to save his wife and kids from stress and embarrassment of a trial. Molloy conceded that he had advised Montgomery that his daughters could be called as witnesses, and that they would be under media scrutiny.

He'd once been a happy family man—the vice president of his daughters' swim club. Now his wife was divorcing him, and his daughters wrote him in jail to tell him that they never wanted to see him again. Montgomery tried to commit suicide after this news. He was placed under close observation at the Erie County Holding Facility.

Prosecutors had another theory about this retraction. The Barrett family had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Montgomery, the Dynabrade Corporation and Mary Sheiler. This may have influenced Montgomery to withdraw the guilty plea, as any statements he'd make in the criminal trial could be used in that lawsuit. Or, since Sheiler was to be the prosecution's key witness, perhaps Montgomery thought he'd fare better in his case now that the Barretts had alienated her by naming her as a defendant in their lawsuit.

At this turn of events, State Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang replaced Molloy, appointing attorney John Nucherino to Montgomery's defense. She adjourned the case until November 27. She entered this in the court schedule as a sentencing, but said she'd consider the retraction then.

 

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