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Woman Convicted In Dismemberment Plot Sentenced To 90 Years

December 21, 1985 GMT

MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. (AP) _ A woman was sentenced Friday to 90 years in prison for masterminding what prosecutors say was a family conspiracy to kill her stepmother-in-law and then spending months helping to dismember the body.

Hilma Marie Witte, 38, of Trail Creek, listened impassively as the LaPorte Superior Court judge ordered consecutive terms of 60 years for murder and a 30 for conspiracy to commit murder in the killing of Elaine Witte.

The 74-year-old victim was fatally shot by a crossbow arrow after she discovered that a family member had been siphoning money out of her bank account, prosecutors said. After her death, Hilma Witte continued cashing the woman’s Social Security checks, they said.

Testimony at the trial detailed an effort by Mrs. Witte, her two sons and her mother to destroy the body, using a saw, knives, chisel, garbage disposal, trash compactor, a deep fat fryer and a microwave oven to reduce the body parts for disposal in garbage bags.

The defendant’s 16-year-old son, John, followed his mother’s instructions and fired the arrow that killed his stepgrandmother in January 1984, authorities said. He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in May and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Next month, Mrs. Witte, who was convicted Nov. 20, faces sentencing in neighboring Porter County for the 1981 murder of her 45-year-old husband, Paul J. Witte.

Authorities say Mrs. Witte also plotted that killing, instructing her older son Eric, 19, to carry it out. Eric shot his father in the head as he lay sleeping in the Beverly Shores home the family occupied at the time, LaPorte Chief Deputy Prosecutor William Herrbach said.

Elaine Witte also was shot as she slept in the home she shared with Mrs. Witte and her children.

″We’re talking about a cold, calculating vicious conjuring of a plan and waiting until this senior citizen was at her weakest moment, lying in her bed,″ Herrbach told the judge in his unsuccessful bid for the maximum sentence of 110 years in prison.

″She (Mrs. Witte) has not repented, she has no remorse, and she has shown no remorse,″ he said.

Defense attorney Scott King said Mrs. Witte continues to insist she is innocent.

The prosecution has dealt more leniently with other family members who were equally involved in the crime, King contended. In addition to the plea bargain with John, the state has agreed to accept a plea from Eric to a charge of assisting a criminal for his role in the disposal of the woman’s body, King said.

Mrs. Witte’s mother, Margaret O’Donnell, 59, of Trail Creek, who knew of the plot and allegedly aided in the disposal effort, also has been charged only with assisting a criminal, he said.

Charges against Eric and Mrs. O’Donnell in LaPorte County are pending, Herrbach said. Eric has been charged with murder in Porter County in his father’s death but has not yet been tried.

Hilma Witte was sentenced in federal court in California to 10 years in prison for forging Elaine Witte’s signature to cash Social Security checks. Herrbach said Mrs. Witte will be turned over to federal authorities to serve the sentence after she has been sentenced in Porter County Jan. 3 in the shooting of her husband.