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Kristin Edmundson to receive life penalty after pleading guilty in Jackson murder case

One of two women accused of brutally killing a Hollidaysburg woman in May of 2001 entered a guilty plea yesterday and will spend the rest of her natural life behind bars.
Kristin Marie Edmundson, 20, of Duncansville entered the plea yesterday before Judge Jolene Kopriva at the Blair County Courthouse. The charges included first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit homicide. A charge of abuse of a corpse was withdrawn by the commonwealth.
“Basically, the essence of the plea was that they (commonwealth) decided to knock out the death penalty and she would plea guilty to first degree murder and receive a life sentence,” said Edmundson’s attorney Terry Despoy of Altoona. “My approach to the case from the beginning was that I really didn’t think the death penalty was appropriate under any set of circumstances in the case. We’re pleased with our decision.”
Edmundson was charged with the killing along with 21-year-old Marie Louise Seilhamer of Ashville, following the May 5, 2001 murder of 20-year-old Hollidaysburg resident Shari Lee Jackson, whose body was found two days later. Blair County District Attorney Dave Gorman and the commonwealth said Edmundson’s jealousy over Jackson beginning a relationship with another woman caused the defendants to work out a murder plot and carry it through.
“We’re pleased with the plea in the sense that Ms. Edmundson, when she is sentenced, she’ll receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole and that she’ll never see the light of day again,” said Gorman. “Obviously, it won’t bring Shari Jackson back, but I think in some small way, at least it brings justice and some closure to the family.”
According to the affidavit of probable cause, Seilhamer and Edmundson drove Jackson to a pull-off area in Clearfield County where, police said, Seilhamer repeatedly struck Jackson with a wooden baseball bat. The affidavit also states Edmundson slit Jackson’s throat after the beating was over. The two then loaded the body in a truck and transported the corpse a short distance, over the Blair County line.
The body was burned the next day by Edmundson and Scott Alan Custer, 24, of Boswell, police said. Custer entered a guilty plea to charges of hindering apprehension or prosecution, abuse of a corpse and criminal conspiracy in December and was sentenced to time served, which computes to about 18 months.
Jury selection for Edmundson’s case was scheduled to begin Monday in Franklin, Venango County, after Kopriva ruled she couldn’t possibly receive a fair trial from a Blair County jury due to the extensive media coverage. Edmundson and another conspirator, Amanda Speicher, 20, also of Boswell, were first ordered to stand trial together beginning Feb. 3, but a decision earlier this week severed the cases.
Speicher, in turn, also decided to enter a no contest plea to a misdemeanor charge of hindering apprehension and was ordered to spend an additional two months in the Blair County Prison. Police said Speicher helped to cover up the crime by concealing items used in the killing and items owned by the victim.
According to Despoy, yesterday’s decision to enter into the plea agreement was the best case scenario for his client strictly because of the evidence the commonwealth had to present.
“I really didn’t want to enter a guilty plea and I labored over it for quite some time, but the more I analyzed the case and discussed it with my client and began putting things together, the more I saw that there were too many pieces of evidence, that, in my opinion, would lead a jury to convict her of first-degree murder,” said Despoy. “Although I don’t believe there was evidence to support a death penalty, the jury could have strayed away from the guidelines and affirm a death sentence based strictly on what they saw.
“We just had too many points to explain away,” he continued. “Under the prosecution’s version of what happened, the girls pre-planned the entire murder. There was a pretty strong motive. There was no doubt there was a shovel, a baseball bat, a blade and a blanket. Ms. Seilhamer took a change of clothes and they went back up to where the body was the day after the murder and attempted to conceal the body.
“With all that evidence all stacked up, I feel the jury would have been inflamed and would have given Kristin the death sentence regardless of what the law says,” he said. “When you are doing a criminal defense case, you are used to being able to explain a couple of things away, but when you have a couple of dozen things that need explained, you’re in trouble.”
According to Despoy, Edmundson is remorseful for her part in the crime, stating that each time he has met with his client and discussed the facts of the case, she has completely broken down in tears.
“I think there are times where she has to put up a tough front in prison, but I can tell you this much, this girl has felt remorse everyday beginning when she wakes up and continuing for every breathing moment,” he said. “I really don’t think you are looking at a person who is a cold-blooded murderer. I really don’t. I think you are looking at someone who got caught up in a really bad situation.”
Gorman said as part of the plea agreement, Edmundson has agreed to testify in the commonwealth’s case against Seilhamer, who is represented by Altoona attorney Thomas Dickey. He said she will remain in Blair County Prison until Seilhamer comes up for trial. Afterwards, she will be sentenced and transported to a state correctional institution, most likely in Muncy.
Should she decide not to testify against her friend at trial, Gorman said the prosecution has the right to withdraw the guilty plea and start Edmundson’s case over at square one.
Dickey did not return phone calls to The Daily Herald this morning.