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Attica woman pleads guilty to killing husband who was found in manure pile

An Attica farm wife who was accused of bludgeoning her husband, stabbing him with a pitchfork and hiding his body under a manure pile pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter Thursday morning in Wyoming County Court.

Charlene Mess, 48, admitted that she killed Douglas W. Mess on April 19, 2014, apparently during an argument in the couple’s home on their dairy farm on Exchange Street. In accepting the plea, Judge Michael M. Mohun committed to a sentencing range of 18 to 25 years in prison, with up to five years of post-release supervision.

Mess had been charged with second-degree murder in the death, evidence tampering for allegedly hiding the body and giving a false written statement about the incident. Had she gone to trial and been found guilty of the murder charge, she could have been sentenced to a maximum of 25 years to life in prison.

An evidentiary hearing on statements Mess made to authorities after her husband’s death was set to take place Thursday before she entered the plea.

In a statement issued by his office, District Attorney Donald G. O’Geen said members of the victim’s family were consulted about the conditions of the plea and approved of the disposition.

“The Mess family and I are hopeful that the court will give her 25 years in prison, or at least something close to that, as we believe that that amount of time is the most appropriate sentence for her actions in this case,” O’Geen said in the release.

The district attorney also referenced the issue of Mess’ competency to stand trial. The defendant was examined by several psychiatrists late last year and in January. Mohun issued a ruling in March that Mess was competent, allowing the proceedings to move forward. At that point, O’Geen said, plea negotiations were revived.

“We have been convinced for months that the defendant was faking or maligning her so-called incompetency as a delay tactic to avoid taking responsibility for killing her husband,” the district attorney wrote. “Once the judge ruled that she was, in fact, competent, she had no more legal maneuvers to avoid taking responsibility.”

The killing came to light when one of the couple’s sons reported his father missing last April. Charlene Mess joined dozens of searchers who were combing the couple’s rural property for the missing man. Eventually, it was noticed that a seasoned manure pile about 300 feet from the house had a section that was freshly turned. Donald Mess’ body, with his hands tied, was found under about three feet of manure.

Mohun set sentencing for 9:30 a.m. on June 23.