NORTH CLARENDON, Vt. (WCAX) The family of Terry King says justice is not being served. That's their response to news a plea deal has been reached with King's accused killer, Donald Fell. The deal means Fell will avoid the death penalty.
"I mean they beat her to death. Beat her to death while she prayed for her life. And yet he is allowed to live? What justice is that?" demanded Barbara Tuttle, Terry King's sister.
Tuttle is talking about Donald Fell, the man accused of the brutal murder of Terry King. The North Clarendon grandmother was kidnapped on her way to work back in 2000.
"It is a total embarrassment for the U.S. government as far as I am concerned, a total embarrassment," Tuttle said.
And King's sister says she speaks for the entire family.
Fell was convicted of the murder in 2005. It was a federal case because the kidnapping crossed state lines. That made Fell eligible for the death penalty. He sat on death row until 2014 when the conviction was overturned due to juror misconduct. Now, with a new trial scheduled to start this fall, a plea deal means life behind bars for Fell and no execution.
"If you are going to have the death penalty, then enforce it. If you are not going to use it, then why is the law there? Why all these appeals over and over and over again? Eighteen years of this," Tuttle said.
Tuttle says her family has known a plea deal was in the works for several weeks. Under the deal, Fell will plead guilty to four federal crimes including carjacking and kidnapping with death resulting. Tuttle says her family was convinced by prosecutors it was the best way to go to avoid another lengthy trial and appeal process.
"I would just as soon go to court all over again if I knew that he would come out with the death penalty. And it was actually be enforced and we wouldn't have to go through 18 more years of appeals," she said. "It is ridiculous."
Tuttle says at least she won't have to keep being reminded of the case once Fell is sentenced to life without parole. She hopes if any good can come of the story, maybe it can lead to changes in the system.
"They are always talking about criminal justice reform. Let me tell you, this is a perfect example of why our system is broken," she said.
A system where a murder case takes 18 years to resolve for a family who still mourns the loss of their loved one.
"I want her to be remembered for the kindhearted person that she was," Tuttle said.
It is important to note that a federal judge still needs to approve this deal. The case goes back to court Sept. 28.
WCAX News reached out to Vermont's U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan for comment but did not hear back before this story was published.
Often forgotten in the long saga of the Fell case is that two other people were murdered that night prior to the kidnapping of Terry King-- Fell's mother, Debra, and her friend Charles Conway. State prosecutors did not pursue charges for those slayings because the feds were bringing a death penalty case.
WCAX News called the Rutland County state's attorney's office to see if they plan to pursue charges after the federal case but we did not hear back before this story was published.