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W.Va. kidnapper pleads guilty

March 10, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

W.Va. kidnapper pleads guilty

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - In what the prosecuting attorney called a rare case of accepting responsibility, Leonard Austin Ellinger Jr. pleaded guilty Monday to kidnapping a 7-year-old girl, a charge that carries a life sentence.

Ellinger, 32, of Kearneysville, W.Va., was sentenced immediately after his plea was entered in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said she agreed to the plea because the child was returned physically unharmed. The plea agreement included a mercy clause, making Ellinger eligible for parole in 10 years.

"In this case, he did not physically injure this child and you have to give him credit for that," Games-Neely said, adding that many abducted children aren't as fortunate.


Ellinger's public defender, Homer Speaker, said Ellinger was remorseful and wanted to plead to take responsibility.

"He feels just terrible about it," Speaker said.

Speaker said Ellinger preferred to accept the plea agreement of a life sentence with the possibility of parole, rather than take the chance a jury would hand down a life term without parole.

"That's too much of a gamble," Speaker said.

Ellinger did not make a statement in court.

Ellinger was scheduled for a March 24 trial on charges of kidnapping the Inwood, W.Va., girl from a mobile home while she slept.

The mobile home was entered during the early morning of May 6, 1997, and the girl taken to a remote area of Jefferson County near the Opequon Creek.

The girl had alleged that she was sexually assaulted.

Ellinger was not indicted on sexual assault charges in Jefferson County and no such charges have been filed.

On Monday, Games-Neely said Ellinger had several conversations with the girl during the abduction: About his broken radio, about how his vehicle was damaged in an accident and about the scar he has from a gunshot wound 20 years ago.

The kidnapper dropped her off about 10 hours later on Industrial Park Road, where a passerby found her and called police.

Games-Neely said the girl's memory of those conversations, and her near-perfect description of her abductor, led police to Ellinger, who was arrested May 7, 1997.

Ellinger has been in the Eastern Regional Jail since his arrest. He will be eligible for parole in May 2007.

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