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Iowa Woman Once Hailed a Hero Now on Trial for Murder

  • Tracey Richter5

    Tracey Richter Roberts confers with one of her attorneys, during a motions hearing in Fort Dodge, Iowa last month.

  • Tracey Richter1

    Richters former home in Early, Iowa where the shooting took place in December of 2001.

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    Richter's booking phot after her arrest this past July.

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    Sac County prosecutor Ben Smith stands for a photo at his home in Lake View, Iowa, where he has spent hundreds of hours reviewing the Tracey Roberts case.

Ten years ago, when Tracey Richter shot Dustin Wehde dead, the Iowa mom was hailed as a hero for protecting her home and family from intruders.

But that was 10 years ago. Now, prosecutors in Sac County say the Iowa mom murdered Wehde not to protect her three young children, but as part of an attempt to frame her first husband. Now Richter is standing trial for killing Wehde, her 20-year-old neighbor, in cold blood.

Richter, 45, was arrested in July in Omaha, Neb., where she currently lives, after a re-investigation of the December 2001 shooting at her home in Early, Iowa.

Soon after the shooting, it was determined that Wehde broke into Richter’s home with an accomplice and attacked her before she broke free, made it to a gun safe in her bedroom and fired two pistols to fend them off.

But now prosecutors say Richter shot Wehde nine times with two guns and then planted a notebook in his car that implied that her first husband, John Pitman, had hired the young man to kill Richter over a child-custody dispute.

They allege that Richter forced Whede to write in the pink spiral notebook that he was hired by a "mysterious fellow" named John Pitman, who divorced the woman in 1996, to kill her and her son Bert.

Investigators found the notebook in Wehde's car at the scene.

 Prosecutors also say Richter made up her report of the second intruder.

But family members say the claims against Richter are flimsy at best. "Everything in their charges is theory, but a theory isn't based on fact," said Tracey's brother, John Richter, a detective for the police department in her native Chicago.

"They could never find the second suspect, so they assumed that her testimony was false," Richter said. "I should use that at work the next time I can't find a suspect in a homicide."

Richter’s attorney, Scott Bandstra, says the prosecution never followed up on leads to find the second man and that a forensic re-enactment done in 2010 by county investigators is consistent with Richter's original statement.

"It's a travesty,” the lawyer says. “She should be given a medal, not charges."

But investigators say a forensics expert concluded that Richter fired the last three shots as Wehde lay face down on the ground.

Richter moved to Early in the late 1990s with her second husband, Michael Roberts, whom she has since divorced and with whom she has feuded over child support and custody issues. Roberts did not respond to requests for comment.

A motion filed by Bandstra last month to have the case dismissed recounts what happened that evening.

It was around 4 p.m. on Dec. 13, 2001, when Wehde, whom Roberts had employed in the past, stopped by their home looking for some work. He left when a friend of Richter's showed up. Tracey was relieved, according to the documents, because she had felt uncomfortable with Wehde being there.

Richter's friend left at 5:15 p.m., her sons Bert, 11, and Noah, 3, were watching a movie and she was giving her year-old son, Mason, a bath upstairs when she heard people downstairs. She thought it was her husband returning from his trip, so she went to greet him. When she reached the top of the stairs, according to the documents, Richter saw an unknown man coming toward her. With Mason in her arms, she ran for Bert's room but didn't make it. She was grabbed from behind by the man, according to the motion.

At that point, the motion continues, she was assaulted and choked with a pair of her pantyhose. She remembers lying on the floor and then breaking free from her attacker and running toward the master bedroom. A struggle ensued with her attacker, and Tracey pushed against him hard and he hit the wall, giving her time to pull away and get into the bedroom.

Wehde was with the second intruder, according to the documents, and he went after Tracey, who reached for a gun safe between the bed and dresser.

She pulled a pistol out of the safe and reached over her shoulder and tried to fire off a shot, but the gun jammed. She fumbled with the weapon then fired a second time when the first shot went off. She then turned around on her knees. Wehde kept charging toward her, so she fired the gun several more times, according to the documents.

Richter's glasses were knocked off during the assault, so her vision was hindered, and after shooting the gun she saw a shadow run past the door and another shadowy figure, Wehde, lying on the floor, rocking back and forth in an effort to get up.

The second intruder fled from the house and was never found, according to Richter and mentioned in her attorney’s motion.

When police officers arrived, a lieutenant discovered a pair of pantyhose, a semi-automatic pistol on one table and a revolver on the kitchen counter. He then observed Wehde's lifeless body on the floor of the master bedroom, according to the filings.

Soon after, Tracey had difficulty breathing. She and her children were taken to Loring Hospital in nearby Sac City, and marks were found on Tracey's neck and hand that were consistent with someone trying to strangle her. There were wounds on her hands that indicated she struggled in self-defense.

The Sac County Attorney’s Office did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Richter’s trial, which began on Wednesday, is expected to last more than a week. 

If convicted of first-degree murder, she could face life in prison.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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