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Local

Detective: Shooter was egged on by her girlfriend

Hearing on whether to try Schroeder as an adult to wrap up today

Editor's note: Although it is not illegal to do so, in general, it is the policy of Sauk Valley Media not to report the names of juvenile defendants. In this case, however, SVM is publishing their names because of the severity of the crimes.

STERLING – It was Rachel's idea. Anna pulled the trigger, but Rachel egged her on. The motive: Peggy was going to end the girls' romantic relationship.

That's according to testimony Tuesday at a hearing to determine whether 15-year-old Anna Schroeder should be tried as an adult after shooting her mother, 53-year-old Peggy Schroeder, in the head July 6 in their Morrison home.

Her girlfriend, Rachel Helm, 16, of Rock Falls, tried to help her clean up after the murder, and has admitted to setting a fire in the house to conceal Schroeder's crime. Her case was transferred to adult court April 3.

Schroeder, who turns 16 on July 3, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, concealment of homicidal death, and arson. If convicted of murder as a minor, she could be imprisoned in a juvenile facility up until she is 21; as an adult, the penalty is 6 to 30 years in prison, or more.

Helm, 16, is charged with concealment of homicidal death and arson, and faces 2 to 5 years and 3 to 7 years in prison, respectively. She has a pretrial conference June 27, and a tentative trial date of July 17.

Schroeder's transfer hearing began around 9:30 a.m. with testimony from Whiteside County Sheriff's Detective Dave Molina, the lead investigator on the case.

Under questioning by Schroeder's attorney, James Mertes, Molina confirmed Mertes' assertion that Helm sent Schroeder texts "on multiple occasions ... [that] express her desire for Anna to kill her mom and that she perceived that Peggy did not approve of her."

Assistant State's Attorney Carol Linkowski then played a dramatic audio recording of Schroeder's sobbing confession to Molina and two ISP investigators that lasted well over an hour.

It begins with Schroeder lying about her and Helm's activities over the 2 days that elapsed between the shooting and her arrest on July 8 – trying to clean the house, moving the body, setting the sheet that covered it on fire, hiding the gun in a cemetery and throwing her mom's cellphone away in a park – but she quickly is broken down by Molina, who was armed with information from Helm, who went to police earlier that night to tell them what had happened.

What followed after the lunch break was 2 1/2 hours of testimony from the defense's forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Stevan Weine of Chicago, who outlined the circumstances he said helped lead Schroeder to put a towel over her mother's face and shoot her at point-blank range.

Weine's testimony focused on the immaturity of the adolescent brain, how an imbalance in its development leads to a teen's lack of self-control, poor decision-making skills, propensity to engage in risky behavior, and susceptibility to peer pressure.

"That's what makes adolescence unique. All parents know that," he said.

Schroeder's susceptibility to peer pressure is particularly intense, he said.

There was no indication that Peggy had done anything other than express concern about their relationship, "but the girls took it to a whole new level."

Schroeder's state of mind was such that she felt "if I can't be with Rachel, I can't continue to exist," he said.

"Anna alone pulled the trigger that day, but I don't think she would have gotten to that point if Rachel wasn't involved. It was very much a peer-driven event."

On top of that, Schroeder was dealing with a decade of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, attention problems, and self-mutilation. She was or had been on 10 different drugs and had seen 18 different mental health professionals in four systems, none of whom appeared to have communicated with one another, and so she never once had a proper assessment, Weine said.

In fact, one of the drugs she was taking – sertraline (Zoloft) – had caused her hallucinations as a child, and yet she was put back on it in April and the dose was doubled in May.

In early June, a month before she shot her mother, she attempted suicide, and "I do think it [Zoloft] played a significant role," Weine said.

"That was a highly significant moment in time," he said, adding that had she been hospitalized at that point, rather than sent home, the shooting might not have happened.

He also talked about Schroeder's "genetic vulnerability." She was adopted by Peggy and Daryl Schroeder when she was 22 months old; her biological mother was bipolar, alcoholic and drug-addicted, and neglected her. The Schroeders themselves had a contentious and at times physically abusive relationship, divorcing when she was 8, Weine noted.

In order for Schroeder to become "a peaceable adult," she needs a variety of integrated treatment methods, which likely will be more available to her in the juvenile system than in adult prison, he said.

If that happens, and given the natural course of her brain development, she could be ready to be a productive member of society by the time she turns 21, he said.

Judge Trish Joyce will hear final arguments on the state's transfer motion at 9 a.m. today, then will set date for making her decision.

Both girls are being housed at the Mary Davis Detention Home in Galesburg. Helm's bond is $250,000.

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