ITHACA, N.Y. — Kimberly DeCoudres loosened the drawstring of a velveteen maroon sack, opened a cardboard box, and pulled out a small plastic bag of her son Camden Rundell’s ashes.
“It’s what I have left of my son, a plastic bag,” she said, holding it up for Colleen McColgin to see during her sentencing Monday morning in Tompkins County Court.
McColgin was involved in a fatal robbery in 2016 that turned deadly. She was initially charged with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and fourth-degree conspiracy, but took a plea deal in December to the conspiracy charge.
Attorneys have argued about what actually happened when Rundell was killed in the early morning hours of Dec. 2, 2016.
Prosecutors say Rundell was robbed by his ex-girlfriend and friends who were eyeing his large marijuana stash, During the robbery, they say a struggle ensued, leaving Rundell dead. Defense attorneys, however, have said that there was no robbery. They say a prearranged drug deal happened that night and that Rundell may have died of a heart attack or drug overdose, as opposed to being suffocated, as prosecutors said.
Jurors sided with the defense last year during the trial of Roy Clements, who was found not guilty on all charges. A witness testified at the time that it was Clements who restrained and suffocated Rundell to death.
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Regardless of what actually happened, the end result was that Rundell was sprawled on his back in his yard, where he lay dead for hours as police investigated.
DeCoudres, who has been a lifelong educator, was teaching a high school English class that Friday morning when she was called out of her classroom and into the principal’s office.
“I knew something was up,” she said.
When she arrived at the main office, her suspicion was confirmed when the principal’s door was closed instead of open and welcoming her. She said she looked at the secretary for a sign of what was happening.
“It was her face that told me that whatever was going to happen behind those closed doors was going to be horrible,” DeCoudres said.
She walked into the office where several police officers were waiting to tell her that her son was dead. She said she began thinking of how to get in touch with her daughter, who was in college about six hours away.
She thought, “Who could be there with my daughter to hear that news?”
Before she could make arrangements, her former sister-in-law texted her asking if everything was okay. DeCoudres said she knew her time was up, and she had to call her daughter before she heard about Rundell’s death elsewhere.
“They were close. They really were close,” DeCoudres said, despite their 10-year age difference.
She passed photos of her son to McColgin: her son as a child being held in a chair, at the beach, and with his sister. She said her son was a gourmet chef and that their holidays were spent busily cooking in the kitchen, making jokes and mimicking each other. She talked about Rundell’s young daughter.
But the photo she can’t get out of her head is the one of her dead son, laying on his back in his yard. She passed the photo to McColgin.
DeCoudres said that upon first seeing the photo, she noticed that he added more tattoos to the sleeve in the works on his arm. But she said,”That’s not who I remember. That’s not who I miss.”
McColgin was intoxicated and misusing the stimulant drug Adderall at the time of robbery, records state. Deputy District Attorney Andrew Bonavia noted that her involvement in the crime was not as extensive as Jamie Gerhart, who helped organize the crime, or Clements, who was tried but not convicted of second-degree murder. But he said that McColgin’s “very poor choices” were all part of what lead up to Rundell’s death.
McColgin bought the tarps that were used to wrap the marijuana plants in and took Rundell’s two rottweilers away from the home by luring them with dog food.
“I don’t believe that you knew what was going to happen that night,” DeCoudres said.
But she said an image that has stuck with her since the “nightmare” of her son’s death started is surveillance video of McColgin skipping through Walmart to buy the tarps.
“Like, this is just what we do for fun on Thursday nights,” DeCoudres described.
Upon learning more about McColgin’s background, DeCoudres said it seemed like she had a privileged life. She recognized that McColgin has made changes in her life since the crime, for instance being sober for about 13 months.
She said she hoped that her perspective has changed since Rundell’s death.
“When you have privileged, when you have opportunity that other people don’t, you have an obligation to yourself but also to society to give more than you take,”DeCoudres said.
She concluded by saying that she hopes McColgin understands the enormity of what her son’s death has done.
“It isn’t going to go away in five years, like your probation will,” she said.
McColgin declined to comment at her sentencing.
Her attorney Ed Kopko said his client has learned how her actions resulted in horrible consequences for people, but said McColgin has made a “dramatic turnaround” in her life after serving 165 days in Tompkins County Jail.
He said she has been to every meeting and session required of her. And while he said the heartfelt anguish of DeCoudres’ loss is important, McColgin’s role was very minimal, he said.
Kopko asked Judge Joseph Cassidy for time served and minimal probation, which Cassidy rejected.
Cassidy said that due to McColgin’s crime and her past struggles with substance abuse, the prosecution’s recommendation of five years probation and time served is appropriate.
“The sad and tragic facts of this case have been exaggerated, tarnishing the reputation of the people who were arrested by the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department,” Kopko said in a news release, noting that Onongada County Medical Examiner Robert Stoppacher said Rundell “likely died from a cocaine-induced cardiac arrest.”
He said McColgin took the plea “solely to avoid the risk and expense of additional prosecution.”
DeCoudres, however, said during her statement, “…No one is guilty of my son’s murder and yet that’s what his death certificate says, is that it was a homicide, not a heart attack, not a drug overdose.”