RUTLAND, Vt. — Nearly two decades after he was charged in the abduction and killing of a Vermont supermarket worker, a man pleaded guilty Friday in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

Donald Fell, 38, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The plea deal ended an 18-year quest by federal prosecutors to have Fell executed.

Donald Fell

With no emotion, he pleaded guilty to four charges in the 2000 kidnapping and killing of Terry King, whose relatives sitting in the packed courtroom had wanted Fell put to death. Fell declined to comment during his sentencing.

U.S. Attorney for Vermont Christina Nolan said the U.S. attorney general’s office in August directed prosecutors not to seek the death penalty. She said while there never would be a good ending to the case, a dangerous man will never be free to commit senseless violence.

“This is an incredibly solemn day,” she said. “This is not a good ending. And there was never going to be good ending to this case because Terry King died in a brutal way, a terrifying way, a senseless way and her family is suffering unspeakable grief and they have for 18 years and they will continue to suffer unspeakable grief.”

Prosecutors say that on Nov. 27, 2000, Fell, now 38, and friend Robert Lee killed Fell’s mother and her friend in a Rutland apartment. Fell and Lee then abducted King, a 53-year-old North Clarendon grandmother, as she arrived early in the morning for work at a Rutland supermarket because they wanted her car to escape Vermont. King was beaten to death later that day by the side of the road in New York state.

Lee hanged himself in prison in 2001.

U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford said the crime was one of most serious in Vermont in decades. The kidnapping and killing of King “was an act of great cruelty and brutality,” he said. A life sentence without the possibility of release “provides just punishment even for crimes as brutal and unjustifiable as these,” he said, adding that the sentence is consistent with Vermont’s longstanding sentencing practices and “our community values.”

Fell was previously convicted in 2005 and sentenced to death, but the conviction and sentence were thrown out because of juror misconduct. Vermont has no state death penalty, but Fell was charged and tried under federal law.

Fell’s agreement to a plea deal came as he faced a retrial in the death penalty case.

Fell has repeatedly offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but up until now prosecutors have rejected the offer, insisting he face the death penalty.

The punishment did not satisfy the family of King, described as a loving mother and grandmother who came from a large, loving and hardworking Rutland family. They wanted him put to death and called the justice system broken.

“These 18 years have been a never-ending nightmare for my family,” said sister Barbara Tuttle. “This plea deal is absolutely not what we wanted for an outcome,” she said, adding that the case “is a total embarrassment to our federal justice system.”

“The only thing we can hope for now is that this subhuman will end up in some deep dark hole and that every day and night of his life is the worst that it can be,” she said.

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