Murder suspect pleads guilty to unrelated gun charges

RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) The suspect in an unsolved Upper Valley murder is in jail after pleading guilty to a federal gun charge.

Wednesday in federal court, Richard Whitcomb admitted that he used a gun as collateral to buy drugs from Austin Colson just days before Colson, 19, went missing.

Whitcomb did not comment as he entered the court to plead guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. He has a past domestic assault conviction.

The federal case stemmed from the investigation into Colson's disappearance. The South Royalton teen's body was found in a Norwich barn a couple of months after he went missing.

Despite the fact that Whitcomb has not been charged with the homicide, Wednesday's hearing came as a relief to the family of Austin Colson.

"It has been a long road. We still have a long way to go but it's definitely a milestone in that path. It's a step forward. But I would definitely like to see additional charges, additional answers. We would like to know exactly what happened," said Dana Colson, Austin's father.

Whitcomb was taken into custody immediately following the hearing. Under the plea deal, he will spend 37 months behind bars, crediting time served.

Again, Whitcomb has not been charged with homicide. But he had plans to meet Colson the day he went missing and he has ties to the Norwich barn where the body was located. Police also say pings on Whitcomb's cellphone connect him to key locations in the case.

"It's pretty clear Rich was at the scene of the crime," Dana Colson said. "Rich knows what happens and he hasn't talked, so it doesn't take a genius to figure out why he hasn't talked."

Whitcomb's lawyer declined to comment after Wednesday's hearing.

Whitcomb's wife told us earlier this week that the family is happy to bring the case to an end. She added that she hopes the person responsible for Austin Colson's death is held accountable.