One of three suspects in the 2010 killing of a beloved grandmother of nine pled guilty to two charges against him Thursday, and saw a third charge, of murder, dropped. Richard Fletcher, 27, admitted to kidnapping and burglary of an occupied residence in connection to the shooting death of Pat O'Hagan, 78, of Sheffield, Vermont.
"I think it's a necessary evil," said Pat O'Hagan's son, Mark, of Bolton, Massachusetts, describing the terms of a plea deal outlined in a criminal courtroom in St. Johnsbury.
In exchange for dropping the murder charge, prosecutors expect Fletcher to provide testimony for them against two other men, Fletcher's half-brother, Keith Baird, and Michael Norrie.
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"He's an important piece to resolution for this case," Caledonia County State's Attorney Lisa Warren said of the reason she entered into the plea deal with Fletcher.
Warren noted there isn't particularly strong physical evidence in the case. She said the suspects cleaned the crime scene. Warren explained that Fletcher's testimony and sworn statements will be critical to securing convictions for Baird and Norrie.
Investigators said Norrie shot Pat O'Hagan in the head during that botched burglary, which the group hoped would net them cash and prescription pills. After the shooting, the trio wrapped the body and kept it in the back of a truck for a week, before dumping O’Hagan in the remote woods of Wheelock, Warren said Thursday. Hunters found her about a month after she was reported missing.
"Every time we hear it, it hits us," said Mark O'Hagan, fighting back tears as he recalled the grisly courtroom description of the crimes committed against his mom.
O'Hagan was a beloved community volunteer who enjoyed the outdoors of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. She and her late husband retired to rural Vermont from Chelmsford, Massachusetts.
O'Hagan's children have, so far, endured a four-and-a-half year wait for closure to the criminal charges against their mother's alleged killers. Why so long? Vermont State Police detectives have said the suspects crafted complex and conflicting stories designed to delay; to throw them off. During much of the investigation, the men were locked up on unrelated criminal charges.
O'Hagan's family told reporters Thursday they hope Fletcher's plea agreement may put an end to their long wait, even if the 15 years in prison Fletcher is expected to get for the kidnapping and burglary convictions under the terms of the plea deal doesn't seem like enough to them.
"We're optimistic it's going to help and that's the one reason we supported it today--that's the one reason we're here--is we're optimistic it's going to help and bring the other two to justice," said Shawn O'Hagan of Manchester, New Hampshire.
Fletcher was not formally sentenced Thursday. He is behind bars awaiting that hearing. Prosecutors and Vermont Superior Court Judge Robert Bent discussed how sentencing won't come until after Fletcher makes good on his promise to testify against Baird and Norrie. No trial dates or timeline for obtaining sworn testimony from Fletcher have been set.