ELIZABETHTOWN - Just over 30 years after June (Hopkins) Collard went missing, her husband finally told the family what they had always suspected.
He killed her.
Collard plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter in Essex County Court on Thursday, Feb. 3, ending a 30-plus year old cold case which was re-opened over the past year thanks to a confession by Collard in July to police in Alabama.
"I was headed into trial mode and to hear this was a pleasant surprise," Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague said about receiving the news that Collard would agree to a plea deal. "A trial wasn't really what the family wanted because they did not want to relive this and they wanted to get the remains back as soon as possible so they could care for them properly."
The trial was expected to start on the last day of February, and Sprague said that her office was ready for the long haul.
"We were looking at a trial that could have lasted a month, another two weeks for jury selection and then anything else that could have popped up," Sprague said. "The trial could have come down to a battle of experts."
Sprague said that while she did not want to "nickel and dime justice," she was pleased that the deal would result in a savings of about $250,000.
"I wasn't holding my breath at this point," Sprague said. "But he did accept the deal and also waived the right to appeal."
Sprague said that the deal was presented to Collard after discussions with the family and had a deadline of Friday, Feb. 4.
"I had sat down with the family some time ago and discussed offering a manslaughter first degree plea," Sprague said. "The public defender advised me Wednesday (Feb. 2) that he would take the plea, and then we got him into the court as fast as we could before the Friday deadline passed."
Sprague said that the deal helped in two areas for the family of June Collard.
"They wanted their mother's remains back as quick as possible, which was never going to happen in a trial," Sprague said. "Tammy Vanderwerker (Collard's daughter) wanted to hear it from his mouth."
June Collard was reported missing from her Olmstedville Home in November of 1980. At the time, Mr. Collard said that her wife had run off to Texas with a male friend.
However, suspicions around the community often pointed the finger at the husband, who living in a Samson, Ala. prison when New York State Police officers visited with him and then re-opened the investigation into his wife's disappearance.
Mrs. Collard's remains were found a short time later, leading to Collard being charged and eventually accepting a plea deal.
In court Feb. 3, Collard declared that he had hit his wife during an heated argument in the kitchen at their home. The force of the punch sent her through a door, striking her head on a hot water tank.
Mr. Collard said he then checked for vital signs and, upon finding her apparently dead, dumped her out of a bathroom window into a pit, covering her remains with dirt and Lime in order to mask the smell.
Sentencing in the case is scheduled for March 31.