An elderly man killed his wife almost five decades ago and thought he got away with it. Now, he will never walk free again.
Recently in Wisconsin, Door County Circuit Court Judge David Weber handed Richard G. Pierce a mandatory life term in prison without the possibility of parole for the death and disappearance of his wife, Carol Jean.
After 10 hours of deliberation, Pierce was found guilty and convicted of first-degree murder and disinterment of a corpse.
"In taking another's life, one deprives another person of the greatest gift that person can have. The harm is like a ripple effect; it spreads. ... In taking Carol Jean's life, (Pierce) robbed her of the ability to reforge those relationships (with her family). ... I hear the comments from the victims, and I think they're sincere," Weber said during the sentencing phase, according to Green Bay Press Gazette.
Pierce’s conviction stemmed from the cold case disappearance of his wife on Sept 5, 1975. The 86-year-old former U.S. Coast Guard veteran, who was stationed at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, had been living in a trailer park within the city.
According to prosecutors, Pierce came home from his base but returned to the ship the next day, telling his shipmates his wife had run away and withdrew $20,000 from the couple’s savings account. However, the couple’s neighbors, who visited the defendant, noticed Jean’s belongings were still at the home including her cat and makeup.
Meanwhile, prior to her disappearance, Jean had told some friends her marriage to Pierce was tumultuous, and they often saw bruises on her body. In addition, the victim had told another friend she believed the defendant was going to kill her.
Later, Pierce, who retired just two weeks after his wife’s disappearance, moved his trailer to Cheboygan, Michigan. He immediately found a new girlfriend, Rose Marlene, and married her three years later.
Over the years, Jean’s body was never found. In 2008, a search of the defendant’s property yielded no results. However, in 2018, a cold case unit decided to perform another search on the defendant’s property in Michigan. They believe Pierce had moved the body when he left Sturgeon Bay. As a result, cadaver dogs indicated human remains' presence six times. Still, authorities did not find Jean’s remains.
Nevertheless, authorities believe Pierce had the motive and benefitted from his wife’s death, including a pension unencumbered by a wife, land, and a home in Michigan. As a result, the defendant was arrested.
Pierce’s defense team argued the state had no body and a murder weapon; hence, they have not met the burden of proof to charge their client with murder.
Prosecutors argued they do not need to prove why or how the victim was killed but show Pierce caused Jean’s death.
“She would have never run away or this disappearing act or sacrificed her own family on her own. This was out of her character. She was a fighter. Mr. Pierce murdered her,” said the victim’s son, Mark Clark, during the victim impact statement, reported WBAY.
Pierce declined to make any comments.
Weber sentenced the defendant to additional three years in prison for the disinterment of a corpse charge. He ordered Pierce to serve the term consecutively with the life sentence.
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