BY MEAD GRUBER
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A judge in Wyoming sentenced a 75-year-old Missouri woman to life in prison on Monday for killing her husband with a rifle in the mid-1970s then throwing his body down the shaft of an abandoned gold mine where it remained for nearly 40 years.
Defendant Alice Uden wore wire glasses, a court-supplied hearing aid and a blue suit, and sat quietly in her wheelchair before speaking at the hearing.
Uden sobbed gently as she addressed the court about the death of her third husband, Ronald Holtz, then 25.
"I've tried to atone for it," Uden said. "I wish that I never would have met him so that none of this ever would have happened. He was a very frightening man."
In May, jurors in Cheyenne didn't buy Uden's argument that she shot Holtz in the head to defend her toddler daughter from him. They found her guilty of second-degree murder.
The shooting happened at the couple's home in Cheyenne in late 1974 or early 1975. Uden testified she shot Holtz with a rifle next to the girl's bed.
Laramie County District Court Judge Steven Sharpe said he considered possible mitigating factors, including Uden's lack of prior criminal history.
"This was very much a cold, calculated murder," Sharpe said. "The jury heard all of the evidence that was before the court and the jury rejected the defense that it was self-defense."
District Attorney Scott Homar argued the killing was a thoughtful, deliberate act that rid Uden of Holtz.
"Her way out was to take Mr. Holtz's life while he was sleeping and then dispose of it in a way that it wouldn't be found for 39 1/2 years," Homar said.
Uden said she put Holtz's body in a cardboard barrel, wrestled the barrel into her trunk and dumped the barrel in an abandoned gold mine on a ranch between Cheyenne and Laramie.
One of Uden's sons, Todd Scott, testified his mother told him decades ago that she had shot Holtz while he was asleep.
After previous, unsuccessful attempts to find Holtz's remains in the mine filled with the carcasses of cattle and other ranch animals, investigators last summer dug deeper in the vertical shaft and finally excavated Holtz's remains.
The jury declined to find Uden guilty of premeditated, first-degree murder, which would have carried a mandatory life sentence. The jury also declined to convict her of the least-serious charge, manslaughter.
Uden's attorney, Donald Miller, urged the judge to sentence Uden to probation because the now-grown daughter, Erica Prunty, has cancer and has been given six months to live.
He also highlighted Holtz's psychiatric history. He met Uden, a former nurse, while she was working in the psychiatric unit at a Veterans Administration hospital in Sheridan.
"His behavior was unpredictable. He was irritable, he was hostile, he was explosive. He had no incentive to change," Miller told the courtroom.
Already serving life in prison is Uden's fourth and current husband, Gerald Uden, 72, who pleaded guilty in November to three counts of first-degree murder for shooting his ex-wife and her two children in central Wyoming in 1980.
Authorities arrested the couple in southwest Missouri last fall. Prosecutors haven't drawn any link between the two cases.
The bodies of 32-year-old Virginia Uden, and her two sons, 11-year-old Richard Uden and 10-year-old Reagan Uden, have yet to be found. Gerald Uden told a Fremont County courtroom in November he shot each of them with a rifle not far from his home, one after the other, and dumped their bodies in an abandoned mine.
Months later, he said, he retrieved the bodies and sank them in Fremont Lake in western Wyoming. Investigators briefly searched the lake for the bodies last fall.