from death row to parole

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My beautiful sister Cindy, never far from my thoughts

 

First off, I want to thank everyone who followed along with the parole hearing/Cindy’s birthday yesterday and offered support–here, Facebook, privately. It sure meant a lot to not have to go through that by myself.

I’m going to document how things went yesterday as the hearing was quite different and I learned some new things. I will say that I was shaking from the moment I woke up. That doesn’t really make sense as I’ve spoken to this Board in person and they were very welcoming and non-threatening. I didn’t fear that he would actually be granted parole, so not sure why I was so anxious. I’m sure many of you out there reading, who have gone through loss and tragedy, understand that often the process is not linear or predictable. One minute you’re fine, then the next struck down again. Hopefully those down moments become less severe and less frequent over time–that has been the case with me– yet they can often be completely blindsiding.

For those unfamiliar with our case, a little background. There is a pretty well detailed comprehensive story focusing on the insurance angle of Cindy’s murder here: When Underwriters Become Undertakers. It was written back in the 90’s when all that part happened–when we sued the insurance companies I mean. It’s good for people to know this can happen, aided and abetted by greedy insurance brokers.

Both of the killers were convicted of First Degree Murder and Conspiracy to commit murder. The sentences were Death and Life WITHOUT parole in that order. Our amazing prosecutor Cathy Hughes was adamant about securing both convictions/sentences, warning us that things can change over time so you want to have every safeguard that they will never be released. I remember thinking that was extreme at the time, but it sure turned out to be frighteningly correct.

Michael and Rudi Apelt were tried and sentenced in 1990/91. Twelve years later, the Supreme Court ruled that people with mental incapacities could not be subjected to the death penalty–called the Atkins ruling. Of course, our family agrees with this, especially considering my father is a Psychologist who worked at length with that population.

There is a lot of legal support for death row inmates. Some lawyers make it their entire career–attempting to free them on every and any technicality. It can be a nice financially rewarding career for them as most death row inmates remain on the row, not receiving their sentences but appealing, for decades. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are spent fighting to get our “worst of the worst” reduced sentences or released from prison. It’s a pretty comfortable and lucrative gig for many attorneys. I’ve said before, the worst of the worst of our society receive the best of the best legal assistance–at our expense. I know this intimately. It was estimated that among other lengthy and costly expenses keeping these killers on death row, this one hearing I’m about to tell you about cost around 10 million TAXPAYER dollars. Let that sink in. TEN MILLION dollars that you and I spent, not at our discretion, trying to free two German sociopaths who never paid a dime in to American tax coffers, from their sentences.

Michael Apelt, Rudi Apelt and their accomplice Anke Dorn as they looked at the time of the murder.

 

A group began launching an appeal for the Apelts shortly after the Atkins ruling. I really didn’t take it seriously at first. I mean if you read the article above and/or know the facts of the case, you know that these men were very sophisticated con men– uneducated– but successful in manipulation. Beyond my sister, who they conned away her very life, they fooled luxury car dealers, custom home builders/realtors, boat sellers, Rolex watch dealers, insurance salesmen and countless women that they were anything from wealthy financiers to computer experts to professional athletes to pilots. All of this was presented in court with all of those people testifying.

This was in one season in Phoenix alone. Their histories show dozens of arrests in Germany for fraudulent schemes, rape, prostitution, theft, burglary, arson. This was all before either of them turned 27. Their bravado in pulling off the scheme to murder Cindy for life insurance was well founded–they had been getting away with these kinds of crimes for years–in fact most of their lives. They stole and sold the rental car they used to drive to the Paris airport to even get to the US to begin their killing spree for money.

So, how that all could be computed in to “mental retardation” was unfathomable. And terrifying ultimately, as this seven year long process to go to trial wore on. It was being taken very seriously. Especially by the Judge who oversaw it and came out of retirement to complete it.

Silvia Arellano

 

Silvia Arellano was the Judge involved and the only finder of fact. There was no fair and impartial jury as in the original trials–just her. Over time, with her rulings alone, it became clear she was not just being fair to the murderers, she was holding bias toward them. So much so, that the AZ Attorney General’s office took it to the AZ Supreme Court to have her recused for bias. I don’t know if we will ever know where her bias toward these murderers originated, but my guess based on other hunches, was that she decided she was against the death penalty, so wanted to end her career by taking someone off death row. And she did just that. We did not prevail with the Supreme Court and she remained on this “mental retardation” case until the very end.

An example of her leanings toward them, was a ruling ordering our original prosecutor Cathy Hughes off the case, who came out of her own retirement to steer the ship for the State. You see, our original prosecutor who had also been fighting and prepping for this trial for SEVEN YEARS like those defending the brothers (yes, they were trying to deem them both “mentally retarded”), was moved to another division and just as the trial was beginning, literally weeks away. We ended up with a new prosecutor in the AG’s office who had to get up to speed on the last SEVEN YEARS in just over a month. Cathy was scared. This new lawyer also had a husband at home dying of cancer–she was distracted and frankly, it showed. On their side was a team of lawyers and their assistants and big money backing them–not to mention every anti-death penalty group around. On our side was a new prosecutor, my Dad and me and our advocates.

The inimitable Cathy Hughes, one of the best people I will ever know.

 

She decided that since Cathy Hughes had become friendly with our family and had vacationed at our beach house in the past, this was grounds for removal. Luckily, those higher up when her decision was appealed, did not agree with her and Cathy was allowed (pro-bono, mind you) back on the case. It was clear that Silvia Arellano was simply trying to sabotage any chance the State had for upholding these sentences. She paved the way every single way she could.

The clearest example of her bias, was her decision to disallow any and all information in the trial about the Apelts beyond their ages of 18. Meaning, she ruled that anything and everything related to their CRIMES or their adult behavior (the other criminal histories in Germany) was disallowed in making her decision for their sentencing for those crimes. She literally set the entire thing up where she could only consider anything related to their early lives that could be stretched or interpreted in to “mental retardation” to decide what their sentences would be. It was just one hit after another with her and to this day, she disgusts me after putting us through that. Putting my elderly father through all that who sat in court every day of that hearing, enduring her ass-kissing of these killers.

A picture of Cindy and I to clear the palette

 

You may wonder why the prospect of these men being released from death was so impactful. We really weren’t attached to, nor anticipating their execution. You can’t live like that as there is like a 1% likelihood that will ever happen. But since their other sentence option was life WITH parole (there was no life WITHOUT parole sentence in 1990-but there is now), and they were both sentenced while in their 20’s, then there was a real option they could go from death row to the streets in about five years if they were granted parole. It was horrifying.

There were so many assaults and intrusions to our family during and around that hearing–it made the original trials look like preschool.

Rudi Apelt

 

In the end, Arellano ruled that Rudi Apelt was indeed “mentally retarded” and would be released from death row. She ruled against Michael. I guess she fulfilled her life dream of releasing a person from death row and that was enough. Then we faced the next hurdle.

Rudi’s defense team didn’t find that win quite enough, and since they had the entire deck stacked on their side, they decided to take it the distance.

Remember, he has now two sentences that were running consecutively–life WITH parole in 25 years, that rolled over in to that same sentence again. In essence, secured in prison for 50 years. But no, that wouldn’t do, so they argued for Arrellano to convert those sentences to CONCURRENT–meaning he would be serving both at the same time. This also meant that he would be not only removed from death row and in to the General population, but he would be up for release in five short years from the time this decision was made. Right back to the streets to continue his life of conning, murdering and raping women (did I mention he had served five years in Germany for a violent gang rape? Yeah, that was disallowed for consideration in her “mental retardation” decision too).

I had had it with her. I knew she would rule in his favor like she had done all along. I knew it was going concurrent and that we would just have to hope the Parole Board would never let him out. I had no more fight in me against this heinous Judge.

The night before that re-sentencing hearing, I was at the American Idol concert (yes I did get to see Adam Lambert perform :D) at got a text from my victim’s rights attorney–the one I had to get during the mental retardation trial after my rights got terribly trampled on by their side sending someone to my home unannounced, but that’s another story (she changed the law so they can never do that again to another victim). Anyway, she asked if I was planning to attend. I said no. She wrote back “I think you need to be there”.

So, once again, I stayed up until 2am writing another impact statement which you can read here. I drove through the desert alone to Florence where the original trials were held, sat with my attorney alone on our side watching his filling up with lookie-loos interested in how to get their killers off death row. I saw Rudi in person for the first time in 18 years. By the way, neither of them attended the mental retardation trial. I guess their attorneys thought they might not look the part well enough and bias the Judge to who they really are vs. who they wanted to pretend they are.

As they looked when we met them in 1988.

 

His attorney started the process by turning around and addressing me personally, offering a weak “apology” for all they had put my family through, that it wasn’t personal, blah blah. I held my head straight, did not indicate accepting of it as I knew he was trying to soften me. He likely thought I wasn’t attending this final re-sentencing and I was the only person really there to make an impact for our side (aka Justice). I’m a Scorpio–those tactics actually backfire on me. It just gave me more strength to say what I had to.

mugshots from around the time of the mental retardation trial

I gave my impact statement about 8 feet away from Arellano and confronted her bias in it–telling her that I did not expect my words to fall on her deaf ears as her bias was fully out there. But hoping that my words would help someone down the road who reviews her decision on appeal, make a more fair and considered decision.

The most poignant moment of that for me was when I got to the part where I described how my Dad and I usually sat alone on the side of the State, while the side of the killers was packed with onlookers hoping for hints to argue leniency for their murderer clients. Then I looked up to that exact scene–my attorney sitting alone behind the prosecutor and rows of suits behind the murderer–the man who slit Cindy’s throat. I raised my hand and moved it left to right, Carol Merrill-style, and improvised “exactly what I’m seeing right here”. I hope I made at least one person question the presence of their own ass in that seat–on the side of evil.

 

 

Shortly after I spoke, Arrellano broke, then returned and delivered her decision.

Miraculously, she ruled that his sentences would remain consecutive. Our backup sentence stayed in place. It was the one and only win we enjoyed in this entire battle.

The Assistant AG took me in a side room after it was over and we all were shaking our heads in disbelief. No one expected this outcome.

This was an entirely new attorney on the case by that time (lots of turnover in the AG’s office at the time), but he was clearly on the same page we were, and had been appraised of the bias against us. He said to me “that was all you” about my statement.

That was at one time gratifying to know my words had potentially made an impact, but at the same time my own life sentence. I knew then and there, that I would have to keep speaking up. That there was no real “letting go” of this whole process without dire consequences.

Which leads me up to yesterday’s parole hearing.

I’ll write that in a separate post as this one has gone on too long as it is and is a lot to digest.

So stay tuned. I’ll have it completed today, I promise.

Thanks for being out there, caring and reading.

4 thoughts on “from death row to parole

  1. Very powerful, Kathy. As always, I keep learning more about these monsters. I always feel a bit honored that you share such personal experiences with us. It’s what keeps Cindy alive in our hearts, and brings an awareness of the truths of Death vs Life without/with parole. You have opened my eyes to the oeal system in a way I never expected.

    In some ways it must feel like an overwhelming burden to have to keep going back for these hearings. On the other hand, it is a beautiful tribute to Cindy and to your family. You would have remained the best duo and I can imagine the laughs you would still be sharing if only …..

    Much love to you. And pride for having you as a friend.

  2. Megan Oglevie

    Oh, Katie… as if it weren’t horrible on its own that your beloved sister was murdered, you are forced to live your life with the constant reminder of it in the fight to keep these monsters from being released from prison. My heart aches for you, and I’m in awe of your strength to get up every day and get back to work. I’m so glad that you gave the love of a truly good man and your precious step daughter to bolster you and shower you with the live you deserve. Stay strong. You are clearly protecting other innocent women from meeting a similar fate by working tirelessly to keep them behind bars. God bless you, always.

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