The third of four defendants charged in the fatal shooting of a Valley Center couple in 2013 entered a no-contest plea Tuesday.
Andrew Ellington stood before Sedgwick County District Court Judge Warren Wilbert on Tuesday and said he wouldn’t challenge evidence from prosecutors that he played a role in the events of Nov. 15, 2013, that led to the deaths of a high-school friend’s adoptive parents, Roger and Melissa Bluml.
He pleaded no contest and was found guilty of both first-degree and second-degree murder of the couple, who a witness last year testified were shot over hatred and for money. In exchange, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett asked the court to dismiss Ellington’s capital-murder, aggravated robbery, burglary and theft charges.
Ellington, 20, is scheduled for sentencing Aug. 27. He will spend at least 36 years in prison for the crimes.
Jay Greeno, Ellington’s court-appointed defense attorney, said Tuesday after the hearing that he thinks the deal was the best option for his client. Plea negotiations had been ongoing “for quite a while,” he said.
“We weren’t going to get a better outcome at trial,” Greeno said.
Ellington was charged with the killings, along with the Blumls’ adopted son, Anthony “Tony” Bluml; Anthony’s birth mother, Kisha Schaberg; and another friend, Braden Smith.
According to information read in court – the factual basis for the plea – Ellington drove Schaberg to the Blumls’ house in rural Valley Center, waited for the couple to return home from having dinner with Anthony, and then held Roger Bluml at gunpoint while Schaberg shot Roger Bluml and his wife in the head.
“I can assure the Bluml family my client has accepted responsibility for his actions in this case. And, quite frankly, did so quite a while ago,” Greeno said.
He added: “I hope the Bluml family can find peace.”
Tuesday’s plea comes a week after Schaberg, 36, and Anthony Bluml, 20, each were ordered to serve life in prison without parole following their no-contest pleas to counts of capital murder and aggravated robbery. Neither they nor Ellington can appeal their convictions or sentences.
Smith, the fourth person charged, is expected to plead guilty later this year to two counts of second-degree murder, Bennett said – a deal Smith negotiated in exchange for his testimony against his accomplices. He likely will serve more than 20 years in prison.
“By Halloween, Thanksgiving, it’s very likely that all four of these defendants will be done,” Bennett told reporters after the plea hearing. “The Bluml family will have been saved the … drama of going through court proceedings and listening to some pretty sad facts” about the case. “I think it’s certainly something I think the family is very happy with and comfortable with.
“It’s an unusual situation to have this many defendants all accept responsibility,” he said, “but we’re very pleased that it’s gone this way.”
According to information read in court Tuesday, Ellington was the last person to join the plot to rob and kill Roger and Melissa Bluml. Smith, who provided the guns to be used in the shootings, initially agreed to give Schaberg a ride to the Blumls’ home but backed out.
That’s when he and Anthony Bluml contacted and recruited Ellington for the job.
“Ellington agreed to do so … (and) met Schaberg at a hotel” on south Broadway on Nov. 15, 2013, Bennett said in court, reciting facts of the crime laid out in the plea agreement.
“While still at the hotel … Ellington was specifically told that he was driving Schaberg to the Bluml residence so that she could kill Roger and Melissa Bluml upon their return to the home,” Bennett said.
“After driving Schaberg to the Bluml residence, Ellington and Schaberg each armed themselves with a handgun provided by Braden Smith and then positioned themselves outside … with the intent to use the handguns to shoot” the couple.
According to previous testimony, Anthony Bluml and Schaberg planned the killings because they were upset that Bluml had been kicked out of the house for using marijuana. They also thought Anthony Bluml might get some inheritance money. Schaberg also felt the Blumls were keeping her away from her two sons, who were adopted by Roger and Melissa Bluml when the boys were young.
After the Blumls arrived home from having dinner with Anthony, Ellington and Schaberg approached their pickup, weapons in hand. Ellington held Roger Bluml, who was driving, at gunpoint while Schaberg shot his wife in the head, Bennett said. Schaberg then turned her gun on Roger Bluml and pulled the trigger.
Melissa Bluml, 53, died at a Wichita hospital the next day. Her husband, who was 48, died from his injuries about five weeks later.
Prosecutors have said Anthony Bluml and Schaberg, who reunited in California in the fall of 2013, spent weeks planning the shootings.
Ellington faces a life sentence with parole eligibility after 25 years for the first-degree murder conviction. Prosecutors plan to ask he serve another 155 months for second-degree murder, with the sentences running consecutively.
“He’s in his early 20s now; he’ll be retirement age before he has any likelihood of getting out of the penitentiary,” Bennett said.
“He’ll do 36 years for about an hour and a half worth of involvement.”
Contributing: Stan Finger of The Eagle