Last-minute no-contest plea thwarts murder trial in Lebanon


An expected week-long murder trial in Lebanon’s regional court was avoided Tuesday morning when the defendant filed a last-minute no-contest plea for involuntary manslaughter just before opening statements were due to begin.

A jury was selected Monday to hear the case.

William D. Culbreath, now 40, was accused of fatally stabbing 35-year-old Travis Farrell on November 16, 2015 in front of the Silver Dollar Grille on North 9th Street in Lebanon.

Under the plea agreement signed before Judge Charles Jones, Culbreath is sentenced to 5 1/2 to 11 years in state prison, the maximum sentence under Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines, given his short, light criminal record, according to Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf.

Jones’ sentencing is tentatively set for December 17.

A no contest or “nolo contendre,” Plea means that a defendant does not deny a criminal charge but does not expressly admit his guilt. For convenience, an undeniable plea for conviction is treated the same as a guilty plea.

According to Hess Graf, Culbreath and Farrell were both dating the same woman.

Hess Graf told LebTown Tuesday that police identified Culbreath as the prime suspect within hours of the incident, but that he fled and was not found in North Carolina until June 2020, when he was arrested on an independent charge.

Culbreath originally faced a general charge of manslaughter, which could have earned a first-degree murder conviction. Hess Graf said the charge was reduced to first degree manslaughter because the lapse of almost seven years resulted in witness problems, including one witness who died in the meantime and another himself fugitive.

She added that there was no surveillance video of the incident.

Culbreath is being represented by York attorney Jeremy Williams, who had not responded to requests for comment as of the time of publication.

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