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7 to 14 Year Plea Deal in Cold Case Murder

Kenneth Leighty agreed to plead guilty to 3rd degree murder in exchange for a 7 to 14 year sentence.
HUNTINGDON, HUNTINGDON COUNTY - District Attorney George Zanic gets it.  7 to 14 years in prison is a relatively light sentence for someone who admits bludgeoning to death his own daughter-in-law 14 years ago.

"I don't think anybody is happy with the sentence.  I'm not happy with the sentence," Huntingdon District Attorney George Zanic said.

But it was a deal that got authorities what they wanted, directions to exactly where Sherry Leighty was buried.

"We needed some incentive for him to tell us where Sherry is located.  The incentive is there is a possibility he would someday get out of jail," Zanic said.
 
On Thursday, Kenneth Leighty entered a guilty plea to third degree murder. 

The case dates back to 1999.  Her family took it public with a Facebook page in 2011.  Altoona Police Detective Matthew Starr blew the dust off the file in August 2012.  He said his instincts kicked into overdrive after talking to Kenneth Leighty and when he realized there was no record of Sherry in another state, though it was long rumored she took off to Maine with a boyfriend.  Eventually, in a secretly recorded a phone call, police said Kenneth admitted killing Sherry, but said it was an accident. 

"It's our understanding Mr. Leighty struck Sherry Leighty with a solid object whether a bat or a pole," Cpl. Starr said.

Police and the District Attorney don't believe Kenneth is telling the whole story, but said they do not have evidence to prove otherwise.

"Even if we had found her without his help, I think at best we could prove third degree murder which is what we got the plea to," Zanic said.

Sherry Leighty's son was among the family members who witnessed Kenneth Leighty's plea.  Her family said there are things they want to say publicly, but they would like to wait until sentencing in February.

A funeral service for Sherry Leighty will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, at Sorge Funeral Home Inc. in Hollidaysburg.
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