CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A 75-year-old Missouri woman accused of shooting her husband in Wyoming almost 40 years ago was found guilty of second-degree murder Thursday in a case that hinged on whether jurors believed her claim she was defending their 2-year-old daughter.
Alice Uden faces 20 years to life in prison after being convicted of the lesser charge. The jury found her not guilty of first-degree murder, which would have carried a life sentence.
"We are pleased with the verdict," Laramie County District Attorney Scott Homar said. "The jury made it clear that they believe she at least purposely and maliciously killed the victim in this matter."
Sentencing will be scheduled later.
Investigators recovered Ronald Holtz's remains of last summer from an abandoned mine shaft on a small cattle ranch between Cheyenne and Laramie. The discovery led to the September arrest of Uden, who was his wife at the time, and her current husband, who was charged separately with killing his wife and two children.
Police have never linked the two cold cases that brought the pair who were quietly living out their senior years in the rural Ozarks near Springfield, Mo., to Wyoming to face criminal charges. Prosecutors could not mention the husband's case during the trial.
Uden, of Chadwick, Missouri, testified she shot Holtz in the back of the head sometime in late 1974 or early 1975, just as he was about to attack her 2-year-old daughter in her crib. But prosecutors said Uden shot Holtz while he was asleep, and they played audio and video recordings of her interviews with police to show jurors her story had changed.
Uden testified that after she shot Holtz, she emptied Christmas decorations out of a 55-gallon cardboard barrel and stuffed Holtz's 175-pound body inside. She rolled the barrel onto the trailer porch and into her car trunk. She said she drove the barrel to the Remount Ranch, where she and her second husband were caretakers before he died in 1973.
Her trial featured emotional testimony from one of her sons, who said last week that Uden told him in the 1970s that she killed Holtz as he slept. At one point during his testimony, Todd Scott turned to his frail mother seated in a wheelchair and said: "I hate you."
Uden was married to Holtz, her third husband, for only a month or two. A nurse, she had met the 24-year-old Vietnam veteran while working in the psychiatric unit of a Veterans Administration hospital in Sheridan.
Hospital records cited at Uden's trial show Holtz had a long history of violent outbursts and drug use, and had checked himself into VA facilities 13 times over the previous four years.
"He was extremely violent, unpredictable and impulsive," her attorney, Donald Miller, said in his closing argument Tuesday.
Uden said Holtz became abusive soon after they married in September 1974. She said Holtz had a job driving a taxi at night and, one morning, he flew into a rage when Uden's toddler daughter began crying when he was trying to sleep.
Uden testified Holtz knocked her down while storming toward the girl's bedroom. Uden said she grabbed her .22-caliber rifle from a broom closet and shot Holtz in the back of the head, from a couple feet away, as he stood above the toddler's crib.
Prosecutors argued Holtz was asleep when Uden shot him in the back of the head.
"The fun was over," Laramie County District Attorney Scott Homar said in his closing argument. "The fling she had started was no longer a good time for her. And Mr. Holtz maybe wasn't the man she thought he was."
He said Uden kept changing her story when investigators interviewed her. She also told investigators she got the gun from a bedroom closet much farther from the crib - and much less readily available in the urgent situation.
Homar said in his closing argument that where she got the rifle didn't even matter much because there was no scenario in which she could have acted quickly enough to stop Holtz.
"Her story is impossible," he said.
In the other case, Gerald Uden, 71, has pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder for shooting his ex-wife, 32-year-old Virginia Uden, and her two sons in central Wyoming in 1980.
It's unclear when Alice and Gerald Uden met, but she testified she married him in November 1976. That's five months after Gerald separated from Virginia Uden.
While entering his plea in November, Gerald Uden was vague about his motive but said Virginia Uden had become "intolerable."
"Virginia did her very best to split Alice and me apart," he said in court. "She used the boys to do that."