As a date in the murder trial of Katherine Seeber was about to be set in Saratoga County Court on Tuesday, Seeber surprised the court by pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter.
Seeber said she believed there was “overwhelming evidence to indicate that she participated in the death of Ruth M. Witter, her step great-grandmother,” according to a statement from Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III.
Murphy is asking the court to sentence Seeber to 17 years in state prison later this month.
Seeber, 30, formerly of Wilton, also indicated there was significant evidence that she participated in the hiding and disposal of Witter’s body, which was taken to the Saratoga National Historical Park in the town of Stillwater and dumped Feb. 12, 2000. The elderly woman was slain in her Colonie home.
A state appeals court had recently granted Seeber a trial, even though she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Witter’s death. She was allowed to take back the 2001 guilty plea on the grounds that a state technician may have fabricated evidence reports on her case. The decision by the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court was announced Thursday.
Seeber was moved to Saratoga County Jail from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, the state prison in Westchester County.
She pleaded guilty to the first-degree manslaughter charge before County Court Judge Jerry J. Scarano at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Murphy said this surprised those in the courtroom because Tuesday’s court session was called to schedule a trial date and exchange discovery materials.
But then the parties began to discuss the possibility of a plea of guilty in lieu of a trial.
“Saratoga County acquired jurisdiction because even though the actual homicide occurred in Albany County, the body was discovered in Saratoga County,” Murphy said.
At the time, then-Albany County District Attorney Sol Greenberg called Murphy and requested the Saratoga County District Attorney Office’s assistance on the prosecution.
In addition, in a separate indictment, Seeber pleaded guilty to third-degree burglary for breaking into a residence in the town of Wilton on Jan. 26, 2000. She admitted that she knowingly entered a building with intent to commit a crime inside.
Murphy and assistant district attorneys Jennifer Buckley and Jim Davis negotiated the disposition and discussed the matter with the family of the victim “who were satisfied that this long ordeal which had spanned a decade of litigation, trial and appellate review, finally came to an unexpected end Tuesday,” Murphy said.
“It was agreed that at the time of sentencing, Judge Scarano would cap the sentence at no more than 17 years in a state correctional facility,” Murphy said.
Scarano will rely on the pre-sentence investigation prepared by the Probation Department to determine what sentence would be appropriate. Murphy said he will advocate for the full 17 years.
In addition, Seeber waived her right to appeal and will pay the statutory fines and surcharges. She was then taken back to county jail until the sentencing date of May 29 in Saratoga County Court, after which it is anticipated she will be sent back to Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.
Seeber’s boyfriend in 2000, Jeffrey Hampshire, was accused of strangling Witter in 2000 in Witter’s Colonie home. But the incompetence of the lab technician that later came to light likely helped to acquit Hampshire, according to authorities.
Seeber testified at Hampshire’s trial that he strangled Witter, 91, and then they both dumped the body into a snow-covered area at the Saratoga National Historical Park.
The state police lab technician, who later committed suicide, testified that fibers on the duct tape on Witter came from Seeber’s gloves, likely leading jurors to have a reasonable doubt about Hampshire’s guilt and acquitting him.
Hampshire, who can’t be tried again on the same charge, has since been convicted of another crime and is currently in prison for tampering with evidence after a fatal hit-and-run accident in March 2010 in Saratoga Springs.