Paul Gordon Collier- Monday, May 4th was intended to be the first day of the Debra Lockett murder trial. She stood accused of murdering Oliver Litzelman on September 13th, 2013. On May 4th the jury selection process was set to begin. That jury selection process would not be needed as Debra Lockett has entered into a plea deal with the Tioga County DA, Krista Deats.
First, we will give you the details of the plea deal, then we will give you the background information on the case that brought us all to this point.
Friday, May 1st, Debra Lockett, 58, from Duncannon PA, entered a “no contest” plea to the charge of 3rd degree murder. Lockett plead no-contest to murdering Oliver Litzelman in his Liberty home. Senior Judge John Leete, who was specially assigned this case, sentenced Lockett to 17 1/2 to 34 years in a state correctional facility.
A no-contest plea does not require the defendant to admit to guilt and give a testimony that effect in court. However, a no-contest plea means the defendant is to be sentenced as if she were guilty.
Lockett’s public defender, Mary Morris, stated to the Williamsport Sun-Gazette that her client decided to take the plea deal after she e “looked at all the facts and decided that with the evidence against her she would not contest it.”
Tioga County DA Krista Deats accepted the plea deal after consulting with Litzelman’s family, who were anxious for closure in the long, nearly 2-year process.
Both Deats and Morris (along with Tom Walrath) will be running in the May 19th primary for the Tioga County DA office that Deats currently holds.
Here are some excerpts from past articles we have posted on this case.
From September 16th, an article by Lonny Frost:
Liberty Township – Pennsylvania State police responded to a call on Sunday, September 15 around 11 am to 7832 Route 414 in Liberty Township. A family member found the elderly couple and immediately called for assistance.
Once on the scene, State police found the body of Oliver Litzelman, age 82 of Liberty, Pa. Mr. Litzelman was assaulted prior to his death. Litzelman died from injuries he received from a gun shot wound. His wife, Edwina Litzelman, 81, of the same address was also assaulted. She was found unconscious and bleeding from a stab wound.
Mrs. Litzelman was treated immediately for her injuries at the scene and then flown out to a trauma hospital. We received word early this morning from a family member, that Edwina is slowly recovering. However, doctors do expect her to make a full recovery.
It is believed the elderly couple was attacked on Friday, however, the couple was not found until Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, the search for the murderer continues as Pennsylvania State police look for a person of interest in connection with the investigation.
After we posted this, the search for a female suspect triggered a major manhunt across the county.
It began to emerge that the Litzelmans were attacked on Friday, September 13th, 2013. Oliver Litzelman died that day from gunshot and other injuries while Edwina Litzelman remained incapacitated. She lay on the floor in her home all weekend long until she was discovered the following Monday, September 15th.
According to our sources, an arrest has been made in Nauvoo at a trailer on Nauvoo Road….
…..Readers in the area contacted us about police activity, including a helicopter and one witness said they saw numerous police vehicles around a trailer.
Apparently, from the reports we have received, the suspect “slipped up” and this was how she was caught. According to a source who wished to remain anonymous the suspect was scoping out another home from the road with binoculars in the Nauvoo area.
An individual confronted her and then called police, who set up around the Nauvoo area. Apparently she lived in the Nauvoo area as well, and was driving a car which the citizen who confronted her thought was like the one that has been described in this case. If true, and we have no reason to doubt it, this means that a sharp citizen could have possibly saved someone’s life.
According to multiple sources who knew some of the people involved, the suspect bought a green sedan from a local used car seller in the area and the check bounced a day or so before the murder. According to reports, she returned the car to him on Saturday and told him to put it in the garage till she could cover the check. Police would later seize the vehicle after serving a warrant on the seller.
After we issued our report, a number of news outlets quoted state police saying this arrest was not related to the Liberty Murder. We stood by our story as we had multiple sources, officials included, that confirmed our report. We knew the name, though we waited for official word before we released the name.
After initial claims by other news outlets that no arrest was made, claims based on state police statements to those outlets, it eventually came out that an arrest was actually made. Here’s more from Bill Collier’s article on October 4th, 2013:
State Police now tell WETM out of New York a WHOLE DIFFERENT STORY.
The details of our reporting are substantially accurate in terms of someone being arrested, down to the vehicle, the bad check, and we have had the name all day.
What is MYSTERIOUS is that police told WETM, and DID NOT TELL US that this arrest was “on charges of possessing a firearm illegally, theft by deception, and writing bad checks.”
The suspect is Debra Lynn Lockett of Nauvoo Road in Morris, Pa.
Police filed paperwork regarding this with the District Magistrate Court, however at no time while we were asking about an arrest did they reveal any of this information.
We cannot say if this person was ever a suspect. We can say that at 3PM we were not told one way or another, but that we would be receiving more information in a press release, which WE DID NOT, but apparently, the Wellsboro Gazette did, albeit their information was incomeplete and did not include this arrest.
So. An arrest was made, but we are being led to believe that this arrest is not related to the investigation of the homicide in Liberty.
We stand by our readers and their reporting, that a woman was arrested in that area, and that it was suspected that this was related to the homicide. We will continue tracking this.
Because we had so many sources telling us this arrest was actually connected to the Liberty murder, we stood by our story. A few days later, we updated the investigation in an article written by Bill Collier on October 9th:
The local community did a great job of reporting their suspicions, and one person, who remains anonymous, is truly deserving of high praise, no matter how things sort out, This person saw a suspect who they felt met the description of the murder suspect, confronted them, and called the police.
IMPORTANT- there is another local woman with the SAME NAME as the person arrested. Please be aware of that and DO NOT harass anyone just because you think they have a similar name……
At this point State Police were not able to say whether or not the arrest in question is related to the case. We have received no press release on this case either.
The issue of why police have not confirmed whether this arrest is or is not related may not mean that the person arrested is a suspect.
Let me explain. This can be due to the fact (which police have not confirmed) that they may have received an initial tip on this case that led to this arrest, it does not mean the person arrested is a suspect even, but some similarities of appearance and the car she bought might mean they have yet to rule her out.
We believe at this point, from all the information we have, that such a tip was made and that it played a role in this arrest, even if indirectly.
This does happen during investigations. People are looked at and other crimes are discovered, though later that person is cleared regarding any suspicion of the first crime that was being investigated.
As it turned out, the state police were, in fact, holding Lockett on lesser charges and gathering up evidence to make a strong arrest for a murder charge. Not until January 3rd, 2014 was Debra Lockett named as an official suspect in the Liberty murder. Here is how Bill Collier reported it:
State Police Criminal Investigator Todd Wagaman showed a series of photos to the wife of Oliver Litzelman, including a photo of Debra Lockett, who the Tioga Freedomist learned early on was an un-arrested un-official suspect in the murder according to a search warrant filed through Mansfield District Judge James Carlson. According to the search warrant, the investigator stated that the victim’s wife identified the suspect from the picture as the person who murdered her husband. While the suspect has not been formally arrested on these charges there are several reasons why she has been a person of interest in the case.
Early on we learned, and we constrained from reporting in detail, that authorities did believe she was their suspect. The charges filed against her for theft, passing bad checks, and possessing a firearm allowed authorities to hold her and take their time conducting the investigation. There was no more worry that she might, if she is found guilty, harm anyone else. We had been told to watch for a very high bail, $30,000 or more, if indeed the objective was to ensure that she stayed behind bars because, in reality, she was “unofficially” a suspect…….
Spent bullets obtained from the scene matched the weapon found at the suspect’s home, which has now been officially confirmed by the search warrant application which was filed on Friday, January 3, 2014.
Debra L. Locket, 57, of Nauvo, was arrested on those officially unrelated charges on October 4, 2013, a story we broke literally as the arrest was unfolding.
Police recovered a .32 caliber Harrington & Richardson Revolver at Lockett’s home which matched the spent bullets found at the scene of the crime, in which Oliver Litzelman was shot dead and his wife Edwina was stabbed and left for dead. We will, out of respect for the family, not go into all the horrible details.
After speaking to individuals who have had dealing with the suspect it is clear that, while being accused of such a horrible crime comes as somewhat of a surprise, the suspect was also known by some as a “difficult” person.
The issue of the “green car” kept many residents hopping. It had been known early on that a green sedan was seen near the time of the crime in the area, which led locals to stay on the lookout.
The actual arrest of the suspect occurred because a local man noticed a vehicle (albeit not the one she had been driving), saw the suspect spying on a home with binoculars, and confronted her. Witnesses who spoke to us said that the man joked that if she tried to do anything, then he would have to throw gravel at her (presumably in her eyes). He grabbed a handful of gravel and confronted her, whereupon she fled. Being known to the witness, he contacted the police who were able to track her down.
On January 16th, 20014, we posted this interview with a key eyewitness in the Liberty murder case, Luke Forgeng. The interview was conducted by Bill Collier: