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While there are conflicting stories about who might have helped dump the body of Sean Peter Placko in the James River last year, at least one man has now been convicted for that murder.
Christopher Michael Dudley, 29, of Waynesboro will have to spend 37 years in prison after pleading no contest Tuesday to charges of first degree murder and the unlawful disposal of a dead body. His total sentence was 65 years, 28 which were suspended as part of the plea agreement.
“I apologize to (Sean Placko’s) family members and to my own family for the pain I’ve caused,” Dudley stated at sentencing. “Tell them all, I’m sorry.”
Greed, money and drugs appear to be the motive in the murder, which occurred sometime between Feb. 15 and March 7, 2010, the morning a fisherman discovered Placko’s body in the James River near the Snowden Bridge. Two different versions of the events surrounding the murder—one by Dudley’s wife, Susan Jeannie Dudley, and one by a friend, Andrew Clay Ottinger—have been offered in the case. That, in part, led Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Krantz to agree to a plea in the case, rather than have those conflicting statements offered at trial.
Still he is pleased with the outcome.
“This was a heinous case,” Krantz stated. “We’re very pleased with the sentence.”
According to Krantz, Placko’s body was found early Sunday morning on March 7 by the fisherman who thought he spotted a piece of luggage in the river. He was afraid that possibly someone driving over the bridge had lost the luggage or, even worse, someone had thrown a litter of cats off the bridge in it.
Instead, in the duffle bag the fisherman opened, he found a body, wrapped in plastic. The body and bag had apparently been thrown off the bridge in a blue tupperware container, Krantz stated.
Krantz said the autopsy revealed that Placko had been killed by blunt force trauma to the head and torso. Ottinger, who said he was at Placko’s home when he was killed by Dudley, told authorities those injuries came from Dudley hitting Placko with a hammer or hatchet.
Whether Ottinger was actually present during the murder is in dispute. Susan Dudley has told authorities that he wasn’t and that only she helped her husband dispose of the body. Ottinger, however, has stated he was there when the murder occurred and that he helped dispose of the body as well.
That discrepancy led prosecutors to be willing to take the plea in the case, rather than go to trial and risk evidence being challenged.
According to Ottinger, the murder occurred in Augusta County late in February, between Feb. 21 to Feb. 23, while he was at the house. Ottinger stated he saw Placko’s bludgeoned body and twice went into the bathroom to vomit. He has stated that he helped Dudley dispose of the body and was told that the same would happen to him if he told what happened.
Krantz stated during Tuesday’s hearing that both Susan and Chris Dudley had used a bank card from Placko, who had recently inherited several thousand dollars, to take money from him. According to Krantz, Susan Dudley, who faces a charge of helping to improperly dispose of the body, said the murder occurred sometime around Feb. 15 or Feb. 16 of 2010. That’s also the time that she and her husband are known to have gone to a Wal-Mart to purchase items similar to those used to dispose of the body. Susan Dudley would eventually file a missing persons report on Placko, near the end of February.
She could face up to five years if convicted of the improper disposal of a dead body charge. Ottinger is currently charged with that same charge along with first degree murder. Krantz, however, said both of the Dudleys have stated Ottinger was not involved with Placko’s murder.
“I’m not sure we’ll ever know the exact motive,” Krantz said about the case. He said the amount of money taken from Placko is not known and could range from $2,500 to $25,000.
He said the goal, all along, has been to get to the truth and though exactly what happened is still in dispute, Christopher Dudley was willing to take responsibility for the murder.
According to Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Rupen Shah of Augusta County, charges in other jurisdictions could still be filed in connection with the case. Though the murder is believed to have occurred in Augusta County, little forensic evidence was found at Placko’s home and the trial was held in Bedford County where the body was discovered.
“Justice was done in this case by (Dudley) pleading guilty,” Shah stated.
Both Krantz and Shah said cooperation between the two jurisdictions were key in obtaining the conviction.