More than two years after the murder, an admission of guilt.
"What I did was an unpardonable crime," Lois Riess said. "Solitude is forever. I feel I deserve this. I will have no reprieve."
Riess, the 58-year-old Blooming Prairie woman whose husband was found murdered in their home, sparking a nationwide manhunt, admitted to a judge and court gallery Tuesday that she was the one who killed him.
She will spend the rest of her days in a Minnesota prison cell, sentenced Tuesday afternoon to life in prison with no parole. To satisfy the state’s social distancing requirements, the hearing was moved from the close quarters of the Dodge County Courthouse to the auditorium at Kasson-Mantorville High School.
Minutes before receiving her sentence, Riess pleaded guilty to a charge of first-degree murder-premeditated.
David Riess was shot and killed on Sunday, March 11, 2018, after the couple returned home from a grandson’s basketball tournament in Wisconsin. Lois and David had fought on the way home and continued to argue in the bedroom, Lois Riess testified through questioning by her attorney, Lauri Traub.
Questioned by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, Riess said she was not angry with David in the moments leading up to his death.
“He was very upset, so we were both upset,” she said.
The argument reached a new level when, Lois said, David pulled a loaded handgun from a dresser drawer and handed it to her.
“Why don’t you kill yourself?” she recalled him saying. “Maybe you will get it right this time.”
Lois Riess took the gun and shot David two to three times in the chest. Knowing he was dead, Lois said, she laid down with him and closed his eyes. She covered him with a blanket. And then she left.
David’s family speaks
Four of David’s family members spoke before Judge Jodi Williamson handed down the life sentence.
“When you killed David, you took my heart,” David’s mother, Darlene Riess, said in a statement read by an Olmsted County social worker. “David was this family’s ray of sunshine.”
David’s sister Cindy Sleeper said she couldn’t understand how Lois could kill David, who, she said, a year and a half before his death saved his wife’s life — a comment that was not further explained in court Tuesday. But many who spoke touched on Lois Riess’ struggle with mental health. She herself said, “I didn’t know how much pain I was in until I wasn’t.”
David’s oldest son, Bill Riess, said he didn’t care what his mother said happened that night.
“I don’t care how many times you apologize,” he said. “You stole something from us.”
Last of the family to speak was David’s daughter, Bria Riess.
“Losing my dad at the hands of my mom is something I will never be able to process,” she said. “I miss my dad more than words can describe, but I have to allow for forgiveness in my heart, because that’s what he would have wanted.”
Life sentence to be served in Minnesota
Riess was indicted in May 2019 by a Dodge County grand jury on charges of first-degree and second-degree murder. The second-degree murder charge was dismissed Tuesday.
Riess was also charged with a felony count of theft. She is alleged to have written close to $10,000 worth of checks from the business account of Prairie Wax Worm Farms LLC and deposited them in her husband's personal account. Riess then wrote checks to herself from that account, according to court documents. That case was dismissed Tuesday.
After her husband's murder, Riess led authorities on a four-week, nationwide manhunt that went through Fort Myers Beach, Fla. — where she committed a second murder — before ending with her arrest in South Padre Island, Texas.
Extradition paperwork was filed with a Florida court in March. She was brought to Minnesota at the beginning of July.
In Lee County Court in Florida, Riess pleaded guilty in December 2019 to first-degree murder with a firearm, grand theft of a motor vehicle, grand theft, and criminal use of personal identification information of a deceased individual, and received a life sentence.
Her victim, 59-year-old Pamela Hutchinson, of Bradenton, Fla., was shot to death in a Fort Myers Beach condo on April 9, 2018.
As part of the extradition agreement to bring Riess back to Minnesota, the state agreed that Riess would serve her Minnesota sentence before she would return to Florida. Explaining the reasoning, Assistant Attorney General Frank said Riess committed the Florida murder as a result of her first murder.
On Tuesday, as Riess was led out of the high school auditorium, she removed her face mask and turned to her family to mouth words to them with a hand on her heart.