CA woman gets life term for killing ill husband

Mar 23, 2012, 10:46 PM

Associated Press

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) – On the night his cancer-stricken brother was stabbed to death, David Jessee knew his sister-in-law was somehow behind it.

A few years earlier, Jessee said, his brother Jack told him over a glass of wine before bowling that if anything ever happened to him, she would be to blame.

More than a decade later, a gray-haired Sandra Jessee was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for having Jack Jessee, her third husband, killed in their Orange County home in 1998.

Prosecutors said she wanted to avoid paying for his cancer treatment and to collect his insurance and other benefits. Jessee, now 61, and her son Thomas Aehlert hired a hit man to commit the killing then received more than $650,000 from the sale of the couple’s Placentia home along with 401(k) death benefits and insurance, prosecutors said.

“She’s just one of the most twisted defendants I’ve come across who would engage her own biological son in the murder of a man she’s been married to for 15 years at probably the most vulnerable time in his life,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray said. “To see her finally get justice is very gratifying.”

Defense attorney Derek Bercher said his client would appeal her conviction last year for murder for financial gain and conspiracy.

Authorities said Jessee recruited her son and his friend Brett Schrauben to kill Jack Jessee for $50,000. Both men testified against her after taking plea deals.

During Friday’s sentencing, Jack Jessee’s daughters and brother pleaded with Orange County Superior Court Judge James A. Stotler to impose a life sentence, which was required by her conviction.

“At first I wanted the death penalty, but I think it would be much better for her to sit and rot in jail,” Chere Williams, one of the victim’s daughters, told the court.

The case dates back to 1998, when Jack Jessee, then 56, was diagnosed with colon cancer. Described as tender and trusting by family, Jessee underwent surgery and was recovering when he returned to the hospital for an emergency surgery due to an infection, Murray said.

When a nurse tried to show Sandra Jessee how to help her husband with a colostomy bag that he would need to use temporarily, she refused to listen, Murray said.

“She was sickened by that,” Murray said.

By then, the prosecutor said, Sandra Jessee had already enlisted help from her son and his friend to kill her ailing husband so she could move to Arizona, where Aehlert lived. Schrauben in turn recruited his friend Thomas Garrick, to help him carry out the job, prosecutors said.

On Aug. 13, 1998, Sandra Jesse told her husband she was going out to buy chicken nuggets and ice and stop at the bank. After more than an hour passed, Jack Jessee grew worried about her and called his daughter, Cheryl Deanda, who lived nearby, and asked for her help.

Deanda said she drove to the couple’s house, but Sandra wasn’t back yet. So she took a spin around a nearby shopping center to see if she could find her.

When she returned to her father’s home 15 minutes later, she found him stabbed to death on the living room floor.

“They say I’m lucky to be alive,” Deanda said. “They think the guy was still there when I came back.”

Jessee’s wife was a suspect from the beginning. But Placentia police didn’t have enough evidence to charge her and the case went cold.

In 2005, Orange County sheriff’s investigators began reviewing the evidence, particularly a strip of paper retrieved from Jessee’s purse during a police interview after the murder. The name on the paper was Schrauben, which investigators matched to a tip received a few years earlier, Murray said.

In 2007, Sandra Jessee and Aehlert were arrested in Arizona and brought to stand trial in Orange County. They were both put on trial, and a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of their conviction in 2009.

Last year, Aehlert struck a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He testified during his mother’s retrial last year, along with Schrauben, who pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter in a deal with the district attorney’s office in 2008.

A jury deliberated only four hours in December before convicting Sandra Jessee. The conviction carries a required life sentence, but Judge Stotler on Friday told the woman wearing thick glasses and a jail jumpsuit that he would not have granted her probation even if the law had allowed it.

The sentence was welcomed by Jack Jessee’s family, who lamented how he has missed seeing his grandchildren grow up and attend college, and his daughter get married.

A hearing is scheduled for May 4 to discuss restitution for the victim’s family.

Aehlert is set to be sentenced in September. Schrauben, who has been released from jail, is scheduled to be sentenced in July.

Garrick has pleaded not guilty and has yet to stand trial.

The case has not ended for Jack Jessee’s family, but on Friday his relatives said they were relieved at the prospect of no longer having to see Sandra Jessee in court.

“This is like a 14-year ordeal that has come almost to completion,” David Jessee told reporters. “This was my sister-in-law who put this whole thing together and she is going to spend the rest of her life where she belongs, thinking about this.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

FILE - An orca swims past a recreational boat sailing just offshore in the Salish Sea in the San Ju...

Associated Press

To keep whales safe, Coast Guard launches boat alert system in Seattle

SEATTLE (AP) — Photographer Matt McDonald had lived on Puget Sound for years, but had never seen a whale, so he was elated when he spotted a giant marine mammal just off Seattle’s waterfront one evening. The excitement was short-lived. As McDonald tracked the whale in his camera’s viewfinder, a state ferry that dwarfed the […]

4 hours ago

FILE - From left, Glenn Horowitz, Craig Inciardi and Edward Kosinski appear in criminal court after...

Associated Press

An unusual criminal case over handwritten lyrics to ‘Hotel California’ goes to trial Wednesday

NEW YORK (AP) — A curious criminal case involving handwritten lyrics to the classic rock megahit “Hotel California” and other Eagles favorites is going to trial in a New York courtroom, with opening statements set for Wednesday. The three defendants, all well-established in the collectibles world, are accused of scheming to thwart Eagles co-founder Don […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Family friend of Texas girl Audrii Cunningham facing charges in 11-year-old’s death, prosecutor says

A family friend of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham was in jail Wednesday as prosecutors say they plan to charge him in the girl’s death after her body was found in a river near her rural Texas home. Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons said the body of the young girl — who went missing last week — […]

4 hours ago

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South L...

Associated Press

It’s an election year, and Biden’s team is signaling a more aggressive posture toward the press

NEW YORK (AP) — Occupants of the White House have grumbled over news coverage practically since the place was built. Now it’s Joe Biden’s turn: With a reelection campaign underway, there are signs that those behind the president are starting to more aggressively and publicly challenge how he is portrayed. Within the past two weeks, […]

5 hours ago

Emily Hollenbeck, a deep brain stimulation therapy patient, demonstrates an EEG device that records...

Associated Press

A pacemaker for the brain helped a woman with crippling depression. It may soon offer hope to others

NEW YORK (AP) — Emily Hollenbeck lived with a recurring depression she likened to a black hole, where gravity felt so strong and her limbs so heavy she could barely move. She knew the illness could kill her. Both her parents had taken their lives. She was willing to try something extreme: Having electrodes implanted […]

5 hours ago

FILE - Election judges demonstrate the accuracy of the city's voting equipment on Oct. 28, 2022, in...

Associated Press

Election officials in the US face daunting challenges in 2024. And Congress isn’t coming to help

WASHINGTON (AP) — With election season already underway, some state election officials are expressing frustration that Congress has yet to allocate federal money they have come to rely on to help cover the costs of securing their systems from attacks, updating equipment and training staff. Election officials face a long list of challenges this year, […]

5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

CA woman gets life term for killing ill husband