MORRISON – Calling it one of the most most “egregious and despicable” cases she has dealt with in her nearly 40-year legal career, a Whiteside County judge this afternoon sentenced 19-year-old Anna Schroeder to the maximum 20 years in prison for shooting her mother in the head 4 years ago,
Schroeder, in custody since her arrest in July 8, 2017, two days after the murder, was given credit for 4 years, 4 months served.
By statute, she also will be allowed day-for-day credit, allowing the sentence to be halved, as well as any half-day credits that might be allowed for time spent in Illinois Department of Corrections educational, vocational, treatment or other programs.
Per her agreement to plead guilty to second-degree murder, Schroeder gave up her rights to appeal, or to seek probation instead of prison time. Two counts of first-degree murder and once count each of arson and concealment of a homicidal death were dismissed.
Reading from a short statement, a tearful Schroeder apologized to her family, especially to the sisters of her mother, Peggy Schroeder.
“The girl who killed her mother, that’s how people will always know me, and that’s how I deserve to be known, but my mom doesn’t deserve to be known as my victim,” she said.
“I didn’t think about what I was doing, I didn’t think about forever. I wish I could go back to when she was proud of me. I don’t want to be the reason she is gone, but I am, and I’m sorry.”
On July 6, 2017, three days after she turned 15, Schroeder took her mother’s gun, and when she came home from work, told her she had a surprise for her, had her put a towel over her face then shot the 53-year-old in the head.
She and her then-girlfriend, Rachel Helm, had for two weeks been texting each other messages about ways to kill Peggy, who the girls feared would keep them apart now that their romantic relationship was known.
Schroeder texted a picture of her mom’s body to Helm to prove she had killed her, and after Helm was dropped off at the Schroeders’ Morrison home, the pair spent two days in the house with the body, trying to clean up the crime scene and preparing to run away.
In the end, they set the house on fire and left.
Schroeder got a ride a ride to her father’s home in Walnut and Helm to her home in Rock Falls, where she told her mother what happened.
Schroeder was arrested later that night.
“This case is probably in the top tier of the most egregious and despicable ... situations I can recall in my almost 37 years in the law,” Circuit Court Judge Trish Senneff said when handing down the maximum sentence allowed for second-degree murder. “The callous disregard for the life of Peggy Schroeder ... is disgusting.”
Defense attorney Jim Mertes had sought 12 years, citing in part what he has called Helm’s instigation of the crime.
“Rachel Helm was certainly not the only reason Peggy Schroeder was murdered,” Mertes said. “She was, however, the horrible catalyst of a particularly horrible storm.”
(Helm is in Whiteside County jail on arson and concealment charges; her next hearing is Dec. 1.)
State’s Attorney Terry Costello argued for the full 20.
“Every once in a while, a case comes along that shocks the conscience and deserves the highest penalty. This is that case,” Costello said.
Senneff noted, but gave little weight to, the defense’s emphasis on Helm’s influence on Schroeder, or to Schroeder’s youth or her lifelong treatment for mental Illness.
“What it boils down to is this: There is no evidence that Anna Schroeder did not know the difference between right and wrong.
“No one forced her to commit this act, she thought of a plan to kill her mother and burn down her house to cover it up, and she took the steps to put her plan into action.
“She chose to act in this evil manner, and then tried to get away with it.”