Abbott pleads guilty to 2008 Sitka murders

Prosecutors drop 2 murder charges; minimum sentence will be 40 years

Posted: Sunday, May 17, 2009

SITKA - A 19-year-old Sitka man has pleaded "guilty, but mentally ill" in the knifing deaths last year of his grandparents, aunt and her companion.


Jason Abbott pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors on Thursday in the March 25, 2008, deaths of Alice and John Abbott, his grandparents; his aunt, Elizabeth Abbott, and her friend, Charles Tate.

In the plea deal, prosecutors dropped the four murder counts to two.

Abbott also pleaded "guilty but mentally ill" to a felony charge that he stabbed and seriously wounded Mary Ricketts, another of his aunts. Ricketts survived the 2008 attack and attended the hearing in Sitka Superior Court with a handful of other Abbott family members.

Jason Abbott will serve at least 40 years in prison. Sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 25 in Sitka. The judge conditionally accepted the plea until Abbott is examined by psychiatrists.

Assistant Attorney General June Stein said the plea deal would hopefully allow Abbott's family to move past the tragic incident.

"It's very difficult for them to keep reliving the events of that day and the aftermath of it and it will be good if they can put it behind them after the sentencing," Stein said by phone from her office in Anchorage. "They're very pleased and looking forward to it being resolved."

Police have said Abbott told them the "Lord made me murder them."

Three days before the killings, Jason Abbott was arrested for allegedly trying to punch his mother because she had orange and red colored items in her home. He said they were "evil colors," according to court documents.

On the day of the murders, authorities said all five people were stabbed repeatedly, and suffered injuries to their backs and fronts, including some defensive wounds.

Ricketts, the survivor, woke to the sound of her mother, Alice Abbott, 68, screaming, according to authorities.

Ricketts went downstairs to see her mother covered in blood and scrambling from the house. She then saw the defendant come at her with a knife, authorities said.

Abbott chased his aunt, catching her in the driveway, where she screamed for him to stop as he stabbed her repeatedly until police arrived, authorities said.

Alice Abbott, Jason's grandmother, staggered outside and collapsed against a police car. She later died on the operating table.

Officers said they had to use a stun gun on Jason Abbott after he put the dagger to his own throat.

Police then entered the house and found John Abbott, Jason's 69-year-old grandfather, in the living room, seated in a recliner and covered in blood.

They later found Elizabeth Abbott, 40, in the bathroom face down in a pool of blood and her 37-year-old fiance, Charles Tate, in a bedroom, also face down in blood.

Scott Sterling, Abbott's attorney from the state Office of Public Advocacy, said Thursday that Abbott "really wanted to spare his family the trial."

Lawyers on both sides argued in court filings for months about whether Abbott should be examined by court-appointed psychiatrists. At the hearing, Sterling made the first public statements about Abbott's mental state the day of the attack.

Sterling said Abbott had suffered from mental illness since late childhood and, since his arrest, had been diagnosed by prison doctors with paranoia and severe schizophrenia.

Sterling said Abbott was "unmedicated and suffering a psychotic episode brought on by schizophrenia" at the time of the stabbings.

Judge David George said the plea will require the state Department of Corrections to treat Abbott's mental illness while he is incarcerated. George "conditionally accepted" Abbott's pleas, but said he would wait for documentation corroborating Abbott's mental illness before formally entering them in the court record.

The plea deal included a consolidated indictment that joined the murders of John and Alice Abbott into a single count. The same was done with the murders of Tate and Elizabeth Abbott.

Each of the two first-degree murder charges carries a sentence of 20-99 years in jail.

Abbott also pleaded guilty to an assault charge in connection with his attack on Ricketts. George said Abbott faces 7 to 11 years for that charge because a knife was used. Under Alaska's consecutive sentencing laws, Abbott must serve some additional term of imprisonment for the felony assault charge.

Sterling said Abbott's minimum jail term will be at least 40 years and one day.

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