FORT DODGE, Iowa – A woman convicted of killing her northwest Iowa neighbor as part of an elaborate plot to frame her husband maintained her innocence Monday as she was sentenced to life in prison during an emotional hearing.
Tracey Richter, 45, claimed she shot 20-year-old Dustin Wehde in her home in 2001 after he and another man broke in and strangled her with pantyhose. She appeared on national television soon after the shooting, telling how she killed Wehde to protect herself and her three children.
Jurors sided with prosecutors, who said Richter made up the story as part of a convoluted plot to frame her ex-husband. They said Richter shot Wehde to keep him quiet.
She was convicted Nov. 7 of first degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. Richter said she plans to appeal. Iowa has no death penalty.
Richter told the courtroom that she broke down and cried when she learned she had shot Wehde.
"All I know is what I experienced that night and that I was defending my family from two people and Dustin was one of them," Richter said.
She apologized to Wehde's mother and for the pain his death has caused.
"I would rather spend the rest of my life in jail for a crime I didn't commit and have my three children alive then lose one of my children and be free," said Richter, who lived in Omaha, Neb., before her trial.
But she added: "I didn't murder your son."
Wehde's family also spoke at the hearing.
"You killed his hopes and dreams," said Ashley Pingree, Wehde's 24-year-old sister. "He missed everything, all because of you."
Wehde's other sister, Brianna Wehde, 21, was too overcome to testify. Sandy Aschinger, a victim witness coordinator, read her statement, which recounted the fun times the siblings had shared.
Dustin's mother, Mona Wehde, said has struggled with depression and alcoholism since her son's death.
"Not one day I don't envision my son's body, see his blood," she said. "He did not deserve to be so cruelly taken. I don't deserve to have to live my life with this pain, without my child."
Prosecutors said Richter killed Wehde to keep him quiet about his role in a plot to frame her ex-husband. They said she lured him to her home then had him write in a notebook that her ex-husband hired him to kill her and her son. She then shot him nine times with two guns.
Richter was involved in a custody fight at the time, and prosecutors said she was trying to gain an advantage before an upcoming hearing to keep from losing her son and $1,000-a-month child support payments.