COOPERSTOWN — A former Otsego County resident whose murder conviction in the 2000 death of his wife was overturned last year pleaded guilty to lesser charges Monday, May 3, in exchange for admitting that her death was intentional.
Casey Callahan, 55, formerly of Unadilla, pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter in Otsego County Court.
Callahan, already incarcerated on an unrelated conviction at the time of his 2016 arrest, became eligible for a new trial when the Third Judicial Department of the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division overturned his 2017 second-degree murder conviction in August, but the family of his late wife, Elizabeth Welsh Callahan, said they’d prefer not to endure another trial and endorsed Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl in his pursuit of a plea bargain.
Welsh Callahan, then 34, was killed when she was run over by her husband’s tractor trailer in the parking lot of a Dandy Mini Mart in Sayre, Pennsylvania, as she was tying her shoe.
Asked by Judge John F. Lambert if the allegations were true, Callahan responded: “Yes, that’s true, so that I can get this plea.”
“It’s either true or it’s not true,” Lambert said.
“It is true,” Callahan affirmed.
Reading from a prepared statement, Callahan said: “On January 19, 2000, I intended to cause the death of Elizabeth Callahan and my actions did so. I am sorry that it happened. I apologize to her and her family. Thank you for your time and consideration.”
Muehl said he was satisfied with the elocution and said he may send it up to the Appellate Division that overturned the original conviction.
“It’s a sad day, I believe, for the criminal justice system in the state of New York, and it’s a sad day for Elizabeth Callahan’s family, but under the circumstances, after talking with the family, this is the route we decided to take,” Muehl said.
“That was 17 years in the making,” said Jim Welsh, a Milford resident and Welsh Callahan’s older brother. “The trial lasted a week, but to get it there took nearly two decades.”
Dolores Lawton, Welsh Callahan’s older sister, said it was “heart-wrenching” to get the phone call in August that Callahan’s conviction had been overturned.
“We were just so happy to have him go,” she said. “He’s just such a danger. He’s a sick man.”
“There’s another victim here: his own son,” Welsh said.
The couple’s son, Conner, was 16 months old at the time of his mother’s death.
“I didn’t want Conner to have to go through another trial,” Lawton said. “We just needed it to be over. His father has caused him so much pain and chaos in his life. I didn’t want him to go through more.”
Callahan walked away unscathed from the crash that killed his wife, which was initially ruled an accident by Pennsylvania State Police, according to Gary Wickham, Welsh Callahan’s brother-in-law. When he sought custody of his son three or four years later, the family hired an attorney and a private investigator to fight his claims.
In the years since Welsh Callahan’s death, Callahan served minor prison sentences for various misdemeanor sex crimes, including indecent exposure and public lewdness, according to Muehl. On multiple occasions, Callahan exposed his genitals while refueling his tractor trailer and showed explicit images to convenience store clerks.
Callahan was sentenced to 12½ years in prison for a 2013 conviction of a first-degree criminal sex act, Muehl said, stemming from his repeated sexual abuse of his stepdaughter from the ages of 6 to 13.
Callahan’s 25-to-life sentence was to be served consecutive to his sentence for the criminal sex act, Muehl said, but was replaced with a lesser term of four to 12 years — still to be served consecutively, starting as soon as 2023 — to match the lesser conviction.
“It doesn’t seem long enough, but it’s what we can do,” Wickham said.
“He had a very hard time admitting he did it,” Lawton said of Callahan’s half-hearted admission of guilt in her sister’s death. “We were surprised he would do it. He’s a very arrogant person.”
“He knows he’s guilty, he just doesn’t want us to know that,” Muehl said. “I knew it was the best we could get. He got away with murder.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.