03/14/08 — Three enter pleas for roles in murder

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Three enter pleas for roles in murder

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on March 14, 2008 1:47 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Three cousins pleaded guilty to plotting the death of Mount Olive's Russell Lee Nickelson this week, all receiving 15- to 18-month sentences in plea deals with prosecutors, court records show.

Another man, Robert "Bobby" Leach has already been sentenced to at least 20 years after a guilty plea to second-degree murder in the 2005 death.

Cousins of Leach have pleaded guilty to plotting severe injury to Nickelson, avoiding with their plea bargain more serious charges, including first-degree murder, records show.

Clifton Lee Leach, 33, Cleveland Drive, Mount Olive, Fennell Seaberry, 32, Cobb Street, Mount Olive and Jeffrey Leach of Glenhaven Lane, Goldsboro pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to beat Nickelson with a "wooden object" according to court records.

Police found Nickelson's body at the corner of Church and Kornegay streets in May that year, dead of a gunshot wound to the chest.

Pictures in the court case file of Jeffrey Leach showed his wounds post-mortem.

The wounds included contusions and abrasions to the right side of Nickelson's face and left cheek, a hematoma on the left eye and lacerations to the forehead and lips, court records show.

Chief Emmett Ballree handled inquiries into the death in 2005, before current police Chief Ralph Schroeder was promoted to the position after 28 years.

Schroeder said he had worked the case in 2005 with other investigators.

"I'm glad the case is finally gotten over with," Schroeder said. "It was two years, and I'm glad for the family's sake that the case has finally been disposed of."