Suspect's mother pleads guilty
Peck admits hiding body parts

Thursday, October 29, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON -- Ellen Peck, accused of hiding the body parts of a woman her son is suspected of killing and dismembering, pleaded guilty Wednesday to two felony charges.

Two weeks before her trial was to begin, Ms. Peck pleaded guilty in Butler County Common Pleas Court to obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence, charges that carry a possible sentence ranging from probation to 10 years in prison.

"She acknowledges doing what she was accused of doing, and she's remorseful about it," said her attorney, Vincent Sanzone.

Judge Michael Sage will sentence her Dec. 2. She will remain in the Butler County Jail on $1 million bond.

Ms. Peck, 46, of Middletown, was arrested Sept. 1, after she and a relative led police to buried body parts of Cheryl Durkin, 34, in Preble County and Indiana.

The torso of Ms. Durkin, who lived in the Middletown area, had been found floating in the Great Miami River in Hamilton in mid-April.

A nationwide search continues for Ms. Peck's son, James Lee Lawson, 29, of Middletown, the prime murder suspect. He has been on the run since a warrant for his arrest was issued Sept. 1.

Ms. Peck hid the body parts out of a "misguided concern about what she thought her son may have done," Mr. Sanzone said.

Ms. Durkin's sister, Karla Edwards of Madison Township, said she and the family are relieved they won't have to endure Ms. Peck's trial.

"I hope she gets the maximum sentence possible," Mrs. Edwards said.

She said her family will have to suffer the additional pain of digging up Ms. Durkin's grave and burying the body parts when they are released by authorities.

Ms. Durkin's grave is in the family cemetery in Redlick, Ky., near Berea. Five of Ms. Durkin's brothers will bury the parts themselves.

"We've always dug the graves there ourselves," Mrs. Edwards said. "We buried my sister one time, and now we're going to have to go through it again."

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