Princeton Times

News

January 18, 2013

Atwell considers plea deal in murder, abduction

PRINCETON — The Mercer County man accused of killing his estranged wife and kidnapping his eight-year-old daughter is considering a plea deal.

Tracey Lee Atwell, 38, of Mercer County, stands charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in connection with the April 2012 incident that led local investigators on a manhunt that spanned more than two days throughout Mercer County.

Thursday, Atwell appeared before Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope to waive his right to a speedy trial and inform the court that he is considering a state offer of a plea deal.

Defense attorneys Paul Cassell and Derrick Lefler declined to comment on the potential offer, as did Assistant Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Janet Williamson.

Williamson announced during the pretrial hearing, however, that she recently received an oral report on DNA analysis found at or near the mobile home where Christina Atwell, 33, was found choked to death.

Williamson said DNA was tested on a blanket, a cord and a tool at the residence.

“It came back positive for his DNA,” Williamson said, adding later that the tools had previously belonged to Tracey Atwell.

She did not indicate whether those items were used in Christina Atwell’s homicide or their possible connection to the case at hand.

The crime traces back to early April 2012, when Tracey choked Christina Atwell to death inside a residence where she had been living. Tracey Atwell’s parents’ reported that he tried to revive Christina and attempted suicide when he discovered she was dead.

When that attempt failed and Tracey Atwell regained consciousness, he made the trip to his family’s Camp Creek home in the afternoon of April 12. There, he reportedly confessed his crime, bound his parents inside their home and took his young daughter for what the parents believed would be a short ride.

When Tracey Atwell didn’t return shortly, Willard and Margaret Atwell extricated themselves from their bonds and phoned authorities, setting the scene for a widespread manhunt, an Amber Alert and a non-stop search for Tracey Atwell and his daughter.

Finally, on April 14, authorities closed in on Tracey Atwell’s whereabouts and arrested him, allegedly as he attempted to return to his parents’ home.

He has remained in custody since his arrest.

Thursday, Swope granted the defense request for a continuance of the trial that was originally slated for Jan. 29.

“I understand the magnitude of what he’s trying to do. I understand he wants to think about that,” the judge said, reminding attorneys that he expects to go to trial March 5, unless Atwell accepts the state’s plea deal before that date.

The suspect was remanded to the Southern Regional Jail pending a Feb. 14 hearing that will serve as either his plea hearing or a suppression hearing to prepare for trial.

— Contact Tammie Toler at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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