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Just who is lying isn’t clear.
But it doesn’t really matter. In the end, both Andrew Clay Ottinger and Susan Dudley face convictions of helping dispose of the murdered body of Sean Peter Placko in the James River in March 2010.
Ottinger and Dudley were both in court last week and each entered pleas to the felony charge of concealment of a corpse. Ottinger said he was there and helped Susan Dudley and her husband, Christopher Michael Dudley, when they dumped Placko’s body into the James River following his murder by Christopher Dudley in February 2010. Susan Dudley also states she helped her husband dump the body, but adds Ottinger wasn’t there.
There is no sentencing agreement with either defendant and a pre-sentence report was ordered in each case. Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Krantz said he expects a contested sentencing hearing when it’s held in August or September.
Ottinger’s recollection of the events in February 2010 surrounding the murder of the Waynesboro man include him being present when Christopher Dudley committed the murder. He says a hammer or hatchet was used and the blood he saw made him sick. The autopsy shows Placko’s body did suffer blunt-force trauma, but those results are complicated because he was thrown over the bridge into the river, where he was found in a bag several days later by a fisherman.
Still, Krantz said the medical examiner could differentiate between wounds that occurred before and after Placko was killed.
Last month Christopher Dudley entered a no contest plea to the murder charge and will spend 37 years in prison for his conviction. Dudley, however, claims Ottinger wasn’t present at the murder and that he strangled Placko with a chord instead of bludgeoning him with a hammer. The murder, he says, was over money and drugs.
Susan Dudley, however, claims she wasn’t home when her husband killed Placko, but that he told her what happened when she came back. Susan Dudley said her husband forced her to cooperate in getting rid of the body, including purchasing materials to dump him in at a Wal-Mart following the murder. She also said she was forced to clean up after the murder, including cleaning Placko’s fingernails to remove any DNA evidence.
Krantz points out that at the crime scene no blood was found. “If he was struck by a hatchet there should have been blood splatter at the scene,” he said.
Susan Dudley claims the murder occurred around Feb. 15, 2010, and that they kept the body in the house for 36 hours before bringing it to Bedford County to dump in the river. She said Ottinger did not help in the disposal of the body.
Though their stories are different, each now faces a conviction.
“By their own statements each one convicted themselves of disposing of the body,” Krantz stated of the case.
But there wasn’t sufficient evidence to tie either of them to the actual murder.
Krantz encouraged Ottinger, if he hadn’t been there, to state he wasn’t present, but he continued to maintain during last week’s hearing that he was telling the truth.
“Obviously he and Susan Dudley are not (both) telling the truth,” Krantz said of the conflicting stories. “We’re confident we convicted the primary killer.”
Krantz said no human being deserves to be treated the way Placko was treated by the Dudley's and Ottinger “before or after death.”
Ottinger, who was originally also charged with first degree murder, has remained in jail since his arrest and has not yet asked for that to be changed. Susan Dudley has been out on bond.
“Without Ottinger and (Susan) Dudley I don’t think we could have convicted Chris Dudley,” Krantz said of the case, adding that Ottinger’s story has remained consistent throughout the progress of the case.
Krantz said, however, he would have had concerns about the conflicting stories had Chris Dudley’s case actually gone to trial.
Why the different stories?
Krantz isn’t sure. Ottinger’s story does place the date of the murder about a week after when Chris Dudley says it took place. Placko’s body was found on March 7 by the early morning fisherman.
Krantz said all three involved in the case were heavy drug users.
“I am very impressed with the investigators who were able to place this together as best as they could,” Krantz said. “We’ve gotten them on what we could get them on. That’s frustrating, but that's the cards we were dealt.”
Krantz noted that two jail house informants had said Chris Dudley told them that all three had planned the murder. Placko had come into a large inheritance prior to his murder and depended on others to help manage his finances.
The Dudleys are known to have used Placko’s ATM card after his death.
“There was just no real, practical way to reconcile the different versions (of the murder),” Krantz stated.
Both Ottinger and Susan Dudley face from one to five years in prison on the charge of concealment of a corpse.