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Appeals court denies Richter's murder appeal

Friday, January 11, 2013

Over a year after Tracey Richter filed to appeal her first-degree murder conviction, the Iowa Court of Appeals Wednesday denied her application.

After a jury in Fort Dodge found her guilty November 2011 of first-degree murder, Richter, 46, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. In 2001, Richter fatally shot 20-year old neighbor Dustin Wehde in her Early home, claiming self-defense during a home invasion.

New evidence prompted criminal charges in July 2011, a full decade after Wehde's death.

Court of Appeals Judges Amanda Potterfield, David Danielson and Mary Tabor concluded evidence presented during Richter's trial did not "preponderate heavily against the verdict."

"We therefore find no reasonable probability that the district court would have granted a new trial had Richter's counsel made the motion," the justices wrote in an opinion obtained by the Pilot-Tribune. "Having failed to prove the requisite prejudice, the defendant's ineffectiveness claim fails."

In her appeal, Richter argued the district court erred in overruling her motion of acquittal. The evidence, she claimed, was insufficient to rebut her justification defense. She also said the trial court had abused its discretion in excluding testimony of her psychological expert. Richter claimed she was denied effective defense when her attorney failed to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence in her conviction.

Richter continues to allege that she shot Wehde multiple times to protect herself and her children. Prosecutors say her home invasion story was a hoax, as part of an elaborate plot to frame her ex-husband.

In their opinion, the justices concluded there was substantial evidence a jury could use to determine Wehde's shooting was not justified, such as proof Wehde was shot with unnecessary use of force after being incapacitated.

They also decided Richter's claim of being choked by pantyhose during the home invasion was "staged," based on testimony from a medical examiner during the trial.

Although Richter argued the jury should have heard an expert witness, clinical psychologist David Grove who testified after the jury was dismissed, the justices sided with the district court's ruling that Grove's testimony was inadmissible.

Grove contended Richter showed signs of PTSD, but was unwilling to address whether she was "truthful or not."

"The defendant attempts to characterize the testimony as expert opinion on the effects of a traumatic event on Richter's inconsistent memory, but we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court's ruling," the justices' ruling states.

As for the pink notebook, purportedly a journal used by Wehde, the justices said they believed Richter should not have known about its contents, since law enforcement had withheld it from the public.

A decision of the Iowa Court of Appeals is final, unless reviewed by the Iowa Supreme Court on grant of further review.

Sac County Attorney Ben Smith, who prosecuted the case, heralded the court's ruling as "great news."

"It affirms what we thought all along, and it's just yet another fact-finding body that has found overwhelming evidence of her guilt," Ben told the Pilot-Tribune. "It's nice to know we are one step closer to putting this behind us."

Richter's lawyer, State Appellate Defender Mark Smith, did not immediately return the Pilot-Tribune's request for comment by press time.

Dustin's mother, Mona Wehde, thanked supporters online Wednesday: "A month ago, my son's murderer (sic) (Tracey Richter) did an appeal on her trial (sic); we just got the news today that once again she was denied! She will remain in her cold cell! Thank you, God! Life moves forward! And thank you to each and everyone of you for all of your support through all of this! God Bless!"

Records indicate Richter remains incarcerated at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women, a medium/minimum security prison in Mitchellville.

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