IOWA CITY - A mother serving life in prison for murder must be allowed to see her children, who were in the rural Iowa home during the execution-style killing of their neighbor, a judge decided in a ruling that outraged the prosecutor in the case.
Judge Nancy Whittenburg's order requires Michael Roberts to take his children from their home in California to visit Tracey Richter at the women's prison in Mitchellville three times while she appeals her murder conviction. Sac County Attorney Ben Smith said Thursday that it is unbelievable Richter maintains parental rights after a jury convicted her of shooting 20-year-old Dustin Wehde at their home in Early in 2001 while the children - then 3 and 1 - were one room away.
"Do you think Tracey cared about the children when she stashed them in the room 15 feet from where she fired 11 shots?" Smith said. "She should have lost any and all rights to make those kinds of decisions or to have an influence in her kids' lives when she executed somebody."
This 2011 file photo shows Tracey Richter during her first-degree murder trial in Fort Dodge. The mother serving life in prison for killing a neighbor in 2001 has been granted continued visitation rights with her two minor children, who were present in the rural Iowa home during the execution-style slaying, a judge has ruled.
In the ruling issued last week, Whittenburg also said Roberts cannot move to his native Australia with the children until Richter's appeals are exhausted, even though Roberts says his temporary visa has expired.
Whittenburg said the 14-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl have a "long, positive history with their mother," whom she called an excellent parent. She said the visits will help "bring closure to the sudden and traumatic events of the past year" in which Richter was arrested and convicted of killing Wehde as part of a plot to frame her first ex-husband, John Pitman, for a home invasion.
Prosecutors say Richter shot Wehde several times at close range in the back of the head in her bedroom, and concocted an elaborate hoax that she acted in self-defense to protect her children after Wehde and another man attacked her. Richter claims the men broke in and strangled her with pantyhose until she broke free, unlocked a gun safe, grabbed two guns, and killed Wehde as the other man fled. Three kids, including one she had with Pitman, were in the bedroom across the hall.
Roberts, on a business trip during the shooting, initially stood by his wife's account. But the two eventually divorced and blamed each other for Wehde's death. Richter had primary custody of their children until her arrest last year, which came after investigators took a new look at the death.