American Heather Mack accused of assisting in the murder of her mother and stuffing her body in a suitcase during a trip to Bali pleaded guilty in federal court in Chicago. Her lawyer later stated that she intended to avoid a life term in prison by doing so.
Heather Mack pleaded guilty to one count of plotting with her then-boyfriend to murder Sheila von Wiese-Mack in order to gain access to a $1.5 million trust fund. Prosecutors claim Mack, who was 18 at the time and pregnant, covered her mother’s mouth in a hotel room while Tommy Schaefer bludgeoned her with a fruit dish.
The change-of-plea hearing is the latest episode in a story that has sparked international interest, thanks in part to photos of the luggage, which appeared to be too small to accommodate an adult woman’s body.
Mack, now 27, appeared calm and confident as she stood in orange jail garb and orange slippers, periodically pushing her hair out of her eyes as she answered the judge’s questions, claiming she was aware she was waiving her right to remain silent at the hearing.
After Mack paused before declaring she understood the plea arrangement hammered out with prosecutors over the previous weeks, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly observed the gap and asked again whether she was certain she fully understood it.
Two additional charges against Mack would be dismissed at the conclusion of the sentence procedure. Schaefer was convicted of murder and is currently serving an 18-year term in Indonesia. He is charged in the same United States indictment.
Following the hearing, Wiese-Mack’s family released a statement saying they were “very relieved that the mastermind of Sheila’s murder admitted her guilt today.”
“We will continue to be our sister Sheila’s voice throughout the sentencing process to ensure that real justice is served,” they stated.
The plea bargain asks for a sentence of no more than 28 years in prison, but Kennelly informed Mack that he hasn’t decided whether to accept the term cap. If he rejects it, Mack may withdraw her plea and either reopen plea negotiations or go to trial. The judge set the sentencing date for December 18th.
A crucial issue unresolved in talks between prosecutors and the defence prior to Friday’s hearing was whether Mack’s years in Indonesian prison for a 2015 conviction of being an accessory to Wiese-Mack’s murder would be deducted from any US sentence imposed by Kennelly.
Mack, who lived in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, with her mother, served seven years of her 10-year Indonesian sentence. She was deported in 2021, and US agents apprehended her as soon as her plane touched down at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
Mack’s lawyer, Michael Leonard, told reporters after the hearing that his client’s choice to plead guilty was driven in part by a desire to escape a life term in prison, which would be out of the question if the judge formally approves the plea deal.
Leonard said he will offer evidence at sentencing that Mack has matured and that she was “a fantastic mother” to her and Schaefer’s daughter, whom she gave birth to in Indonesia after her incarceration.
“She is not the person she used to be,” Leonard added. “She has matured as a person.”
When Mack was arrested at the Chicago airport, her six-year-old daughter was with her. After a custody battle, the girl was eventually put with a relative.
Mack was allowed to spend time with her kid while serving her term in Indonesia, according to Leonard, and her child is now her major priority.
“The most important thing for her is reunification with her daughter,” he explained.
Prosecutors successfully argued against Mack’s bond in 2021, claiming she and Schaefer had planned the murder for months. They also claimed to have video proof of Mack and Schaefer attempting to smuggle the suitcase containing Wiese-Mack’s body into an Indonesian taxis.
Some of Wiese-Mack’s family had protested that the Indonesian penalty was way too light. Prosecutors claimed in documents that the U.S. accusations do not violate constitutional limitations against trying someone twice for the same crimes, citing the fact that the U.S. charges allege conspiracy and other acts not charged in the Indonesian case.