Sentencing delayed for Morrison teen who murdered mother

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MORRISON – The teenage girl who pleaded guilty in January to the 2017 murder of her mother won't know her punishment for at least another four months, after a circuit court judge approved a request Wednesday to delay her sentencing out of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Anna M. Schroeder, now 18, has been awaiting sentencing since May for the second-degree murder of her 53-year-old mother, Peggy Schroeder. Schroeder, who pleaded guilty to that charge on Jan. 8, faces four to 20 years in prison.

Although both sides will make sentencing recommendations, the length of Schroeder's punishment will ultimately be up to Whiteside County Circuit Judge Trish A. Senneff, who has presided over the case since it first was filed in juvenile court.

Senneff on Wednesday approved an agreed-to motion made by Schroeder's attorney, James Mertes, and Whiteside County State's Attorney Terry Costello, to strike a two-day sentencing hearing on Nov. 4 and 6 because of uncertainties amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mertes, who appeared via video conference, said he intends to call "several witnesses" to testify during the sentencing hearing, and that some, including a Chicago-based psychologist, had expressed discomfort over travelling and testifying in-person.

"They're unwilling to testifying in-person because of risks related to COVID-19," Mertes said.

Costello, who appeared in the courtroom wearing a face covering, echoed the same concerns Mertes and his witnesses said they have over their potential exposure to and transmission of the virus.

Senneff said the court "will not comment on everyone's concerns," but nonetheless granted the joint motion, setting a case management conference for Feb. 26.

Unless regional public health guidelines or local conditions prevent otherwise, a sentencing hearing will likely take place after that date.

Wednesday's postponement of Schroeder's sentencing is not the first time the hearing has been delayed because of the pandemic.

Her original sentencing hearing scheduled for May 1 and 15 was struck due to limits on in-person courthouse proceedings, and was rescheduled for July 7 and 8. Those dates were struck in June, also because of concerns related to the pandemic.

Costello said after the hearing Wednesday that nobody could have predicted the coronavirus pandemic or it affecting Schroeder's case.

"It's frustrating to an extent, but it's also understandable," Costello said. "We want to move forward, but we don't want to take any chances with anyone's health."

The teen was initially charged in juvenile court in June 2018 with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of arson and one count of concealing a homicidal death. Costello that month successfully argued that she should be tried as an adult.

On July 6, 2017, in their Morrison home, Schroeder persuaded Peggy to cover her face with a towel, then shot her mother in the head with Peggy's own firearm.

Schroeder then texted a picture of her mother's body to her then-girlfriend Rachel Helm, of Rock Falls. The couple spent the next two days trying to clean the scene before setting the house on fire to conceal the murder.

Helm believed Peggy disapproved of the girls' romantic relationship and planned to end it, and repeatedly urged Schroeder via text to kill her mother so they could be together, investigators have said.

Plans made by the couple to run away together fell apart when Helm told her mother, Lois Holland, what happened, and the they ultimately went to authorities.

Schroeder's charges were all dismissed in January, as part of a limited plea agreement she entered in exchange for the newly-entered second-degree murder charge.

Schroeder also agreed to waive her right to any appeals, including the right to challenge her transfer from juvenile to adult court, and to give up the possibility of being sentenced to probation rather than prison.

She has been held in the Mary Davis Home in Galesburg since July 8, 2017, will get credit for time served and will be allowed day-to-day credit, plus any credits she might earn for participating in Department of Corrections programs or employment.