Friday, May 9, 2014
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Jurors found a 75-year-old Missouri woman accused of killing her husband in Wyoming almost 40 years ago guilty of second-degree murder Thursday in a case that hinged on whether they believed she acted to defend her 2-year-old daughter.
Alice Uden faces 20 years to life in prison during sentencing, which will be scheduled later.
Jurors found her not guilty of a more serious first-degree murder charge, which would have carried a life term. But they chose second-degree murder over a less harsh voluntary-manslaughter count.
"We are pleased with the verdict," Laramie County District Attorney Scott Homar said. "The jury made it clear that they believe she at least purposely and maliciously killed the victim."
Uden wore a grim expression as she was pushed from the courtroom in a wheelchair. Her attorney, Donald Miller, said he plans to appeal.
"She's been a wonderful person to work for, and she's very practical and pragmatic about stuff," he said. "She just understands that's how it's going to be."
None of Uden's five children or other relatives was there for the verdict, he said.
Investigators last summer recovered Ronald Holtz's remains from an abandoned mine on a ranch between Cheyenne and Laramie. The discovery led to Uden's arrest in September. Also arrested then was her current husband, Gerald Uden, 71, who was charged separately with killing his wife and two children in 1980.
Police haven't linked the two cold cases that brought the couple quietly living out their senior years in the rural Ozarks in Missouri to Wyoming to face charges.
Prosecutors could not mention Gerald Uden or his case at Alice Uden's trial, but Alice Uden testified she remarried two years after Holtz's death.
Juror Samantha Wallace, 33, said the jury was unfamiliar with Gerald Uden's case.
"I don't think that would have persuaded us. But we kind of thought, 'Where is her (current) husband? Who is her husband?'" Wallace said.
Alice Uden testified she shot Holtz sometime in late 1974 or early 1975, just as he was about to attack her toddler daughter. Prosecutors said Uden, of Chadwick, Missouri, killed Holtz while he slept.
At one point, as many as 11 jurors favored a first-degree murder conviction, but a holdout insisted Alice Uden was guilty of no more than manslaughter, Wallace said.
They compromised on second-degree murder to avoid becoming deadlocked and risking a mistrial, she said.
"It was hard to be in there. Emotions. People crying," Wallace said of the scene in the jury room as they deliberated for about 13 hours over two days.
Alice Uden testified that after she shot Holtz, she emptied Christmas decorations from a 55-gallon cardboard barrel and stuffed his 175-pound body inside. She rolled the barrel from her porch into her car trunk and drove to a ranch where she and her second husband were caretakers before he died in 1973.
Her trial featured emotional testimony from one of her sons, who said Alice Uden told him in the 1970s she killed Holtz as he slept. While on the witness stand, Todd Scott also turned to his frail mother and said: "I hate you."
Uden was married to Holtz, her third husband, for only a month or two. A nurse, she met the 24-year-old Vietnam veteran while working as a nurse in the psychiatric unit of a Veterans Administration hospital in Sheridan.
Hospital records cited at trial showed Holtz had a history of violent outbursts and drug use.
"He was extremely violent, unpredictable and impulsive," Miller said in his closing argument Tuesday.
Alice Uden said Holtz became abusive soon after they married in September 1974. She said Holtz had a job driving a taxi at night and, one morning, he flew into a rage when her 2-year-old daughter began crying while he was trying to sleep.
Uden testified Holtz knocked her down while storming toward the girl's bedroom. Uden said she grabbed her .22-caliber rifle from a broom closet and shot Holtz in the back of the head as he stood above the child's crib.
Prosecutors argued Holtz was asleep when Uden shot him.
"The fling she had started was no longer a good time for her. And Mr. Holtz maybe wasn't the man she thought he was," Homar said in his closing argument.
He said Uden kept changing her story when investigators interviewed her. At one point she said she got the gun from a bedroom closet much farther from the crib — and much less readily available in the urgent situation.
Wallace said she believed the shooting was premeditated.
"She thought about it," Wallace said. "She knew that she was going to kill him. Whatever closet it was didn't matter."
In the other case, Gerald Uden, 71, has pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder for shooting his ex-wife, Virginia Uden, and her two sons in central Wyoming in 1980.
When Alice and Gerald Uden met is unclear, but they married in November 1976, five months after Gerald and Virginia Uden separated.
While entering his plea in November, Gerald Uden was vague about his motive but said Virginia Uden, 32, had become "intolerable."