Twice Tuesday, a prosecutor described what a couple of Augusta County residents confessed to investigators about dumping a body last year off the U.S. 501 bridge into the James River.
Twice because the stories don’t match.
Their stories about how the body of Sean Placko, a 42-year-old from the Churchville area, ended up on the Bedford County side of the James River are contradictory — not in who killed Placko, but in exactly who dumped the body.
Andrew Ottinger, 23, entered a plea of no contest to a felony charge of concealment of a corpse. Susan Dudley, 25, pleaded guilty to the same charge.
Dudley and her husband Christopher, who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 37 years in prison last month in the slaying, maintain Ottinger wasn’t around when the body was dumped.
Ottinger is sticking to his story that he went with the couple in late February or early March to the bridge and helped Christopher Dudley lug the body out of the Dudley’s SUV and over the side of the bridge.
Bedford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Krantz said Susan Dudley was “adamant” Ottinger wasn’t there. During Ottinger’s plea hearing before Judge James Updike, he reiterated he has told Ottinger he could retract his account.
“It’s a huge discrepancy,” Krantz told Updike.
Ottinger testified in an earlier hearing that he and Christopher Dudley were at Placko’s home in late February when he heard the two fighting. Ottinger testified he walked into a room to see Dudley hitting Placko in the head with a hammer or a hatchet.
He testified Christopher Dudley coerced him into helping him package Placko’s body in a plastic sheet, duffel bag and a large plastic container.
A fisherman found the body on the Bedford County bank of the river on March 7, 2010.
Prosecutors initially believed Ottinger had conspired with Christopher Dudley in the killing. Until Tuesday morning, Ottinger had been charged with first-degree murder. Krantz dropped the charge, he said, because he couldn’t prove Ottinger was anything more than an accessory after the fact.
Ottinger and Susan Dudley also offered different timelines for the slaying.
During Susan Dudley’s plea hearing, Krantz said the Dudleys were captured on a security camera at a Harrisonburg Walmart on Feb. 16, 2010 buying the materials in which Placko’s body were hidden.
In an earlier hearing, Krantz said Ottinger said the killing was about a week later. On Tuesday, though, the prosecutor said there’s no reason to believe Placko survived that long because his cell phone records show no outgoing calls after Feb. 15.
Krantz told Updike that Susan Dudley’s cooperation with investigators was “instrumental” in her husband’s conviction and that her help will be emphasized at her sentencing hearing. He said it was unusual for a woman to implicate her husband in a crime.
“She became involved in this case because of the threats of Christopher Dudley,” he said, adding that he believed her husband had manipulated her.
Krantz described how the woman claimed she came home the day of the slaying and thought her husband and Placko were pulling a prank. She then told investigators about how she scrubbed the dead man’s fingernails to remove signs of where he had scratched her husband and about how they hid the body for a day in a shed while they decided how to get rid of it, Krantz said.
Prosecutors have said the motive in the killing is unclear. A cellmate of Christopher Dudley’s testified Dudley told him he killed Placko because he refused to pay a drug debt. Prosecutors have also said the Dudleys stole money from Placko before his slaying and were caught on ATM cameras using his bank card after the slaying. Placko is believed to have inherited several thousand dollars before his slaying.
Neither Ottinger nor Susan Dudley were formally convicted Wednesday. Updike put off conviction and sentencing for a hearing to be scheduled. Ottinger remained jailed without bond. Dudley was allowed to remain free pending that sentencing hearing.