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Question of the Day
FORT DODGE, Iowa — An Iowa jury convicted a woman Monday of murder in the 2001 death of her 20-year-old neighbor, rejecting her claim that she shot him to protect herself and her three children during a home invasion.
Prosecutors maintained there was no home invasion and Tracey Richter, now 45, killed Dustin Wehde to keep him quiet about his role in a convoluted plot to frame her ex-husband. They said Richter lured Wehde to her home in December 2001, had him write in a pink notebook that her ex-husband hired him to kill her and her son, and then shot him nine times with two guns.
Richter was involved in a custody fight at the time, and prosecutors say 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.
Richter buried her face in her arms on the table when the jury’s verdict was read.
Her mother, son and fiance huddled in the courtroom, hugging and crying before quickly leaving without talking. Her attorney, Scott L. Bandstra, declined to comment as he left the courthouse.
Wehde’s mother, Mona Wehde, said the verdict was “a blessing.”
“I knew that was what we should get,” she said. “We thank everyone … for seeing through the lies and hearing the truth. It’s what we all were waiting for.”
Mrs. Wehde once filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Richter but dropped it when investigators said it could interfere with their case. She said despite the verdict and the decade since her son’s death, there’s “a lot of deep hurt left in there.”
Dustin Wehde’s sister, Ashley Pingree, said the verdict marks a new beginning for the family.
“We can move on now because everything is out in the open,” she said. “We know and so does everybody else.”
The prosecutors’ star witness was a former family friend who testified Richter told her about the notebook a few months after the shooting and then later told her to forget about it. Investigators who found the notebook in Wehde’s car testified that they kept its existence secret because they thought whoever knew about its contents had committed a crime.
Richter did not take the witness stand in her own defense.
Richter, who later moved to Omaha, Neb., where she was arrested last summer, faces life in prison at her Dec. 5 sentencing. The verdict caps what prosecutors described in court records as years of fraudulent and dangerous behavior dating back to 1991, when Richter fired shots during an argument with her first husband in Colorado.
• AP writer Ryan J. Foley contributed to this report.
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