MORRISON – The girl who tricked her mother into covering her face before she shot her in the head point blank, citing fear that her mom would make her end her lesbian relationship with another teen, pleaded guilty today to a new charge of second-degree murder.
Anna Schroeder, now 17, faces 4 to 20 years in prison at her 2-day sentencing, May 1 and 15. Although both sides will make sentencing recommendations, the length of her punishment will be up to Whiteside County Circuit Judge Trish Senneff, who has presided over the case since it first was filed in juvenile court.
Charges were amended today to add second-degree murder. At the hearing, initial counts of first-degree murder, one count of arson and one of concealing a homicidal death were dismissed as part of a limited plea agreement.
The teen 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.
Schroeder, who 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-for-day credit, plus any credits she might earn for participating in DOC programs or employment. Should she be sentenced to the full 20 years, she will be released by the time she is 24 or 25.
The plea agreement came in the wake of two rulings that severely weakened the prosecution's case: that Schroeder's confession to investigators was improperly obtained and could not be admitted at trial, and that she would be allowed to try to convince a jury that her judgment was so severely impaired by her forced use of the antidepressant Zoloft that she neither could appreciate the consequences of her actions, nor stop herself from committing the crime.
To have been found guilty of first-degree murder, State's Attorney Terry Costello would have had to prove either that Schroeder intended to kill her mother, or that she committed the crime knowing there was "a strong probability" she would cause her death.
To convict on second-degree murder, the state must prove that, while committing first-degree murder, Schroeder "believed circumstances to be such that, if they existed, would justify or exonerate the killing, but said defendant's belief was unreasonable." That's the basis on which she entered her plea.
Exactly what those circumstances were was not discussed in open court.
Investigators, however, have said Schroeder's then-girlfriend, Rachel Helm of Rock Falls, also 15 at the time, believed Peggy Schroeder disapproved of their romantic relationship and planned to end it. Helm repeatedly urged Schroeder via text to kill her mother so they could be together, investigators said.
At a hearing in March 2018 to determine whether Schroeder should be tried as an adult (and where the audio of her confession was played), Chicago psychiatrist Dr. Stevan Weine, testifying for the defense, said the teen was intensely susceptible to peer pressure.
There was no indication that her mother had done anything other than express concern about their relationship, "but the girls took it to a whole new level," Weine said. 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.
At the heart of the matter is the fact Schroeder was only 3 days past her 15th birthday when the crime was committed, James Mertes, Schroeder's attorney, said in court and in a statement released to the media.
"This case challenges us, as a society, to reflect upon how we treat children who are accused of crimes. The fact the crime is serious does not somehow make a child less of a child.
"The case also raises important constitutional issues regarding police interrogations," Mertes said.
Schroeder was picked up at her father Daryl Schroeder's home in Walnut 2 days after the shooting and taken to the Bureau County Sheriff's office, where she was interrogated by Whiteside County and Illinois State Police investigators.
About halfway through the 2-hour interrogation, she told them "I don't want to talk anymore," at which point the questioning should have stopped, Senneff ruled.
The girl's confession came after that statement.
Mertes called Senneff's decision "absolutely correct."
"This ruling should serve as an enduring reminder to law enforcement that the right to remain silent must be respected. Our willingness to uphold the Constitution cannot change with the tides of our emotion."
Costello was in court all day and could not be reached for comment after the hearing.
Schroeder met Peggy Schroeder, 53, in their living room as she returned from work that afternoon, told her she had a surprise for her, persuaded her to cover her face with a small towel, then shot her mother in the head with Peggy's own gun. She texted Helm a picture of the body.
Then she and Helm, who arrived later that day, dragged Peggy's body to a bedroom and spent the next 2 days trying to clean the scene before setting the house on fire – using the sheets that covered the body – in an attempt to conceal the crime.
Their plans to run away fell apart when Helm told her mother, Lois Holland, what had transpired, and the two of them went to authorities.
Although both teens originally were charged in juvenile court, in June 2018 Costello successfully argued that they should be tried as adults.
Helm remains charged with arson and concealment of a homicidal death, punishable by 2 to 5 and 3 to 7 years, respectively. She, too, is at the Mary Davis Home, where the girls are not allowed contact.
Helm turns 18 on Jan. 30 but will remain in the juvenile detention facility while her case proceeds. She has a pretrial hearing Jan. 29; her jury trial tentatively is set for Feb. 18. She is represented by attorney Paul Whitcombe.