Related topics

Woman Sentenced to Life for Killing Mother, Stealing Baby

November 26, 1987 GMT

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ A 19-year-old woman obsessed with having a child was sentenced to life in prison without parole for fatally shooting a young mother and stealing her 4- day-old baby.

Wendy Leigh Zabel sobbed Wednesday as she was sentenced for the first- degree murder of Joan Witt, the kidnapping of her daughter, Heather Marie, and the attempted murder of Mrs. Witt’s mother, Marie Barrett.

″These actions by Wendy Leigh Zabel may be the most bizarre and incredible criminal episode in the modern history of the United States,″ said Circuit Judge Bill Parsons.


″Wendy Leigh Zabel did not commit the murder and kidnapping for any of the traditional or conventional reasons - profit, hatred, revenge, or anger. Wendy Leigh Zabel killed Joan Witt and kidnapped Heather Marie to gain an object of love for herself, the baby Heather Marie Witt,″ Parsons said.

Although Ms. Zabel was obsessed with having a baby, she was ruled mentally competent. Before the kidnapping, she had pretended to be pregnant and even dressed in maternity clothes.

Ms. Zabel had pleaded guilty to the three counts against her Monday, but Parsons withheld sentencing until he heard two days of testimony about Ms. Zabel and the case. Both the state and the family of Mrs. Witt recommended that Ms. Zabel never be released from prison.

Ms. Zabel, who could have been sentenced to death, agreed not to appeal her sentence in agreeing to plead guilty to the charges.

After the sentencing, relatives of the victims hugged each other.

″This is what we wanted. We feel that justice has been done. I feel that Joan (the dead woman) can rest at ease knowing that justice was done,″ said her widower, Mark Witt.

Joan Witt, 30, was shot and killed in the couple’s home last March 26, when Ms. Zabel also stabbed Mrs. Barrett and kidnapped the Witts’ daughter.

Mrs. Barrett said that even though Ms. Zabel will spend the rest of her life in prison: ″She’s alive. She can eat, breathe and she’ll have happy days in the future, but Joan won’t have any of that.″

Assistant State Attorney Rick Mullaney said he was pleased that ″justice was done,″ but said he felt sympathy for Ms. Zabel’s family, too.

Ms. Zabel’s family left the courtroom by a back exit without comment.

Defense Alan Chipperfield asked the judge to sentence Ms. Zabel to a certain amount of years on the last two charges so that she could be paroled eventually.