2010 - Plea Bargain Accepted Before Murder Trial Starts

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

2010 - GOSHEN - James J. Babcock pleaded guilty Friday in Orange County Court to the killing of Elaine Ackerman because he didn't want to risk the possibility of 26 ⅓ years to life in prison for murder.

Prosecutors offered him a deal of manslaughter and 8 ⅓ to 25 years because they didn't want to gamble with what might happen if a jury heard that another man confessed to the same crime.

That's how both sides arrived at the plea-bargain Friday that ended the 20 year-old mystery of who killed the 53-year-old divorcee in her mobile home on April 27, 1990.

"The District Attorney's Office has to make that decision on the risks of going to trial, versus getting a definitive outcome. The case is now settled, we know who the killer is. We know how it happened, he's admitted what he's done, and he's going to be held responsible for his actions," said Chief Trial Assistant District Attorney John Geidel, the lead prosecutor in the case. "We could have pushed for a trial, trying to seek that perfect outcome. He could have been acquitted, he could have been walking down the street next week."

Firm Attorney, one of Babcock's lawyers, said that "the risk of 26 ⅓ to life was not worth it, given that the plea bargain affords him the opportunity to be paroled in seven and a half years. That gave him sufficient incentive to set the record straight."

By that, firm attorney meant Babcock didn't commit a rape-murder, which was the prosecution's theory.

Babcock, 44, admitted during his guilty plea that he'd been having an affair with Ackerman, who was his neighbor in a mobile home park in the Huguenot section of the Town of Deerpark. On the morning of April 27, 1990, after they had sex, he told her he wanted to end the affair. He was married at the time. Ackerman, he said, threatened to tell his wife.

Infuriated, Babcock strangled her, then slashed her throat to obliterate any fingerprint evidence.

A man named Kevin Keller was initially charged with the murder. He spent more than a year in the Orange County Jail before DNA ruled him out as a suspect. A judge also found his confession wasn't credible.

Babcock was identified as the suspect through a DNA match last year. In January, he pleaded guilty to felony driving while intoxicated, and when he was sentenced in March, a recent change in state law required him to surrender a DNA sample.

He was arrested nearly 19 years to the day after the homicide.

Babcock will be sentenced March 25.

He remains in the Orange County Jail, where he's been held since state police arrested him in April 2009. By then, he lived in Greenville, one town away from where Elaine Ackerman was slain in her home.

Times Herald-Record

Posted: February 19, 2010

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.