The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Saxon woman gets prison in Bear Trap case

 

Richard Jenkins/Daily Globe

JESSICA CARLI tearfully makes a statement in Iron County Court Wednesday during her sentencing hearing. Judge Patrick Madden, right, sentenced Carli to four years in prison and four years probation for her role in covering up the 2016 murder-arson at the Bear Trap Inn in Saxon.

By RICHARD JENKINS

rjenkins@yourdailyglobe.com

Hurley - A Saxon woman is headed to prison after Iron County Judge Patrick Madden decided Wednesday her role in the 2016 murder-arson at the Bear Trap Inn was serious enough to exceed the prosecution's recommendation of jail time and probation.

Jessica M. Carli, 42, was sentenced to four years in prison and another four years of extended supervision for her role in helping her then-boyfriend cover up the crime.

"Ms. Carli, in her statement, indicates she's made bad choices; those choices resulted in the death of an innocent person and the absolute near destruction of a community," Madden said. "I think the only appropriate response is Ms. Carli be sentenced to Wisconsin State Prison."

Carli entered a no-contest plea to the charge of aiding a felon as a party to a crime in June.

She was found guilty of concealing evidence connected to the March 12, 2016, fire and stabbing at the Bear Trap Inn that resulted in the death of Lisa Waldros, of Kimball, who was tending bar at the Saxon bar-restaurant and was the sister of the owner.

Donald Rick, 45, was sentenced to life without parole in June for killing Waldros during a robbery of the bar and setting fire to the building.

Madden's prison sentence was harsher than the six months in county jail and three years probation Richard Dufour - the assistant Wisconsin attorney general prosecuting the Carli case - had sought or the two years in prison recommended in the pre-sentence investigation.

Carli's attorney for the hearing, Vincent Kurta, sought probation only with no jail time.

During his time to make his case; Kurta brought up numerous things he said were false in the pre-sentence investigation report, saying Madden should disregard the recommendations it made.

Madden said he disagreed with Kurta on the suitability of the report.

"I will begin by saying the court finds the pre-sentence investigation is accurate, reliable and well-reasoned," Madden said, before reading an excerpt of the report. "'... The imposition of a prison sentence is both necessary and appropriate.' With this, the court agrees."

Madden then brought up Carli's statement prior to the robbery where she told Rick to, "Do what you've got to do," a statement that both the pre-sentence investigation and victim impact statements cited as evidence of her role in the crime.

"(Rick) didn't have to do what he did, because Ms. Carli could have prevented this. I'm satisfied she had sufficient influence on Mr. Rick. Mr. Rick is not a very smart person, Ms. Carli is much brighter and much more capable ... to make decisions that would be appropriate, and she did not," Madden said. "She could have said no, and she did not. She could have reported the crime and she did not. And it was in the pre-sentence investigation that the report said she was 'unable or unwilling to do the right thing.' That is an accurate statement."

He also said the defense's argument she was drunk and not fully aware of the situation when she helped Rick cover up the murder wasn't a valid excuse and further said she had several opportunities later to do the right thing.

Madden also called the state's recommendation of just county jail time and probation "considerate and generous."

"I'm aware that Ms. Carli suffers from disabilities, but they're self-imposed from what she has done and what she has failed to do," he said.

The community speaks

Prior to Madden imposing his sentence; members of Waldros' family and friends had an opportunity to present victim impact statements to the court, as did witnesses testifying on behalf of Carli.

Sue Herlevi read a statement on behalf of Dean Waldros, Lisa's husband and Herlevi's brother, before giving her own victim impact statement.

Dean's letter detailed Carli's role in his wife's murder, saying she knew Rick was planning the crime beforehand and later spent some of the money stolen from the bar. The letter also talked about how she didn't say anything about what she knew despite opportunities to safely come forward.

"For days; the two of them stood right beside us, looking into the fiery grave that held my dear Lisa. How sick and careless can you get," Herlevi said, reading the letter. "She could have sought safety at anytime from him if she feared for her life. She continued working like nothing was wrong. She could have asked for help, (but) she didn't until she got caught in many different lies."

Due to the nature of the crime, Dean's letter requested Madden sentence Carli to the maximum 10 years in prison allowed under the law.

"I miss my dear wife; and so do her children, her grandchild, all her family and the thousands of friends. The town of Saxon was destroyed that terrible day of March 12," the letter read. "So feel the hurt I feel when you sentence her."

In her own statement, Herlevi also talked about Carli's "Do what you have to" statement and her failure to give information to police.

"She was given the opportunity to give information to police who were in her house, she kept quiet - leaving our family in distress," Herlevi said. "Later, she was at the fire scene right by my broken-hearted family. She waited to see if they found Lisa's body, not concerned for our family - it was for herself. Are these actions of an innocent person?"

Herlevi also raised the possibility of Carli being more involved in the crime than she admitted.

"Only Don Rick, Jessica Carli, Lisa and God will ever know the answers to these questions we have, and the two that are able to answer them have no reason to be trusted. They think with a criminal mind. Our family will never be able to understand the angle these two were coming from; but what our family does know is we all have a gut feeling she is more involved than she is admitting to," Herlevi said.

"Since that day, our family has been through a living hell because of the choices Don Rick and Jessica Carli have made," Herlevi later said, before talking about the impact Lisa's death had on the family.

"All of this could have been stopped Jessica if you would have made better choices" Herlevi said. "In our eyes, she's just as guilty as Don Rick because no-one will ever know how involved she was."

She also asked Madden to impose the maximum possible sentence.

After the victim impact statements, Kurta called several witnesses to speak on Carli's behalf.

The first two - Lesley Burg and Susan Anderson - were professionals who have been treating Carli since she was charged.

The two said Carli was being treated for a variety of physical and mental conditions, some of which may have been caused or exacerbated by her participation in the murder coverup.

Burg testified Carli had post-traumatic stress disorder and also other issues stemming from long-term abuse Berg said Carli experienced during childhood.

"Jessica has developed a chronic pattern of vulnerability to exploitation, this is in large part a result of the trauma she has experienced throughout her life," Burg said. "This really shows itself in her passivity, she has difficulty standing up for herself."

Both testified probation would be more beneficial to Carli's rehabilitation than prison or jail.

Both also acknowledged to Dufour during their cross-examinations they were unaware of Carli having sought treatment prior to being charged in this case.

Burg and Anderson were followed by Carli's long-time friend Monica Chafe, who said Carli had low self-esteem and often had people manipulate or take advantage of her.

Several of Carli's family members also testified, including her parents and son.

Carli's family members spoke of her caring nature and positive qualities as a mother. The testimony painted a picture of Carli as someone who cared too much and began a relationship with Rick due to low self esteem and a desire to care for him.

Her parents also said they had substance abuse issues when Carli was growing up.

Carli's family also repeatedly apologized to Waldros' family and friends.

Carli also apologized to the family and friends, both for bringing Rick to Saxon and for not doing the right thing the night of the murder-arson.

"I want to apologize for my actions - from the bad choices that brought Donald Rick to Saxon in the first place to my cowardly actions the night of March 12, 2016. I'm truly sorry," an emotional Carli said. "I take full responsibility for my actions and I hate myself for all of it. So many lives were destroyed because of me, I will struggle with that guilt for the rest of my life."

She also said her actions were out of fear and that she wishes she had acted differently.

"I just want you all to understand my actions on March 12 and the days that followed were fear-based and I did what I did out of fear, and for no other reason," Carli said. "Driving him to get rid of evidence was out of fear for my life. I didn't know what he would do if I refused to help him, I had already known at that point he would commit murder to avoid going to prison. I lied to police because immediately after disposing of the evidence, Donald told me if he got caught, I'd get seven to eight years (in prison) for being an accessory after the fact."

Once released from prison, Carli's probation will require she have no contact with the victim's family or Rick

Carli was taken to jail from the courtroom and began serving her sentence immediately.

"My best wishes to you, but you have caused pain beyond measure to people who were innocent victims," Madden said to Carli before she was led out of the courtroom.

 
 

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