LISBON Teacher enters plea deal in plot to kill child's mom
Prosecutors are recommending a six-year sentence.
By NORMAN LEIGH
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- Thomas Kelm's desire to rid himself of a child support payment motivated him to plot to kill his 2-year-old daughter and her family, a prosecutor says.
In a plea deal reached Friday, Kelm, 35, of Leetonia, pleaded guilty in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court to conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, a first-degree felony bearing a maximum, 10-year prison sentence.
The trial for the Columbiana County Career Center teacher was to begin Monday.
As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors dropped three additional murder conspiracy counts and recommended a six-year prison sentence.
Judge David Tobin, who is hearing the case, set Kelm's sentencing for Oct. 18.
Alleged plot: He is accused of plotting with others to kill April Frantz and Catelynn Frantz, the 2-year-old daughter Kelm and April had together; and April's grandparents, Joe and Cora Frantz. All four shared a house in Lisbon.
Kelm's primary target was Catelynn because he was responsible for paying about $438 per month in child support for her, said assistant county Prosecutor John Gamble, who handled the case.
The others' deaths were plotted as well to ensure there were no potential witnesses, Gamble explained.
He declined to discuss details of the plot, including the possible use of a bomb, which was mentioned during a court hearing last week.
As part of Friday's plea agreement, Kelm pleaded only to plotting to kill April, 21.
Conspiracy charge: He admitted giving a handgun to David Wilson, 19, of Hanoverton, to use to kill April. Wilson was to be paid for the crime, Gamble said. But he wouldn't say how much.
Wilson and April are cousins.
The FBI heard about the plot from an informant May 19 and persuaded Wilson, one of Kelm's former career center students, to gather evidence against the educator, with whom he socialized.
Kelm was arrested May 25.
Wilson was charged in early June with conspiracy to commit aggravated murder.
His case is pending. Gamble said Wilson's cooperation in the investigation will be considered, but he has been promised nothing.
Mother's reaction: "You have caused our family a lot of anguish and sorrow," April's mother, Karen Wright of Florida, told Kelm when she was permitted to speak during Friday's court hearing.
Afterward, Kelm's attorney, Lawrence Stacey II of Columbiana, said Kelm's actions were affected by an addiction to alcohol and drugs.