Heather Mack, the Oak Park native who stands accused of conspiring to murder her mother, Sheila von Wiese, will enter a change of plea June 15 and plead guilty.
In a morning status hearing by teleconference on June 1, prosecutor Marie Ursini told Judge Matthew Kennelly, a federal judge for the Northern District of Illinois, that the defense and prosecution had made “significant progress toward plea negotiations.”
“We expect the case will resolve with a change of plea,” said Ursini. “We’re still working out some specific language.”
Judge Kennelly set a hearing on the proposed change of plea for June 15, at 1:15 pm. A ruling of the admissibility of hearsay evidence was to be issued on June 2, but has been suspended until the change of plea hearing.
Mack, 27, faces 40 years to life in her federal criminal case. She has already served just over seven years in an Indonesian prison for assisting in the brutal murder of her mother in Bali, Indonesia in August 2014. Since being deported to the United States and her arrest on Nov. 2, 2021, she has been incarcerated at the downtown Metropolitan Correction Center.
The sheer volume and specificity of the evidence against Mack strongly suggested she would eventually opt for a plea agreement. Had she been convicted at trial, she would almost certainly have faced a considerably longer sentence, possibly including lifetime court supervision upon release.
On Dec. 9, Judge Kennelly ordered her detained until trial, saying there was clear evidence of her propensity for violence. On May 10, the judge denied a defense motion seeking to dismiss count two, conspiracy to murder, which carries the heaviest sentence.
In agreeing to a plea deal and avoiding a trial, Mack saves the government time and resources. Prosecutors have informed the court that “the trial would involve the testimony of multiple foreign witnesses,” and that that would “… require arranging their travel from Indonesia and securing the services of interpreters,” as well as lodging and meals.
The federal sentencing guidelines chart places Mack’s offense level at 43, the highest possible, carrying a minimum of 40 years and up to life in prison upon conviction.
Any plea deal will most likely give Mack a three-point reduction in her “offense level,” specifically a two-point reduction for her “affirmative acceptance” of personal responsibility for her crimes, and a one-point reduction for her “timely notification of intention to enter a guilty plea.”
The reduction to 40 points would place her statutory sentencing range at between 292 months and 365 months, approximately 24 to 30 years, though that is advisory.
Prior to sentencing, both the prosecution and defense will submit sentencing memos to the court, arguing for what they consider to be a just term of imprisonment.
Kennelly is not bound to accept the terms of any plea agreement or sentencing recommendations from the prosecution or defense and may sentence Mack to a term higher or lower than the recommended range. However, federal judges usually pass sentences within the recommended range.
On top of a daunting pile of evidence from texts and social media posts already made public, on April 17 prosecutors released a partial transcript of a conversation Mack had with a “K.W.” sometime around September 2014.
In that filing, prosecutors alleged that “Sheila Von Wiese was brutally attacked as she lay in bed—repeatedly beaten … until her face was fractured and she suffocated. Injuries to Von Wiese’s forearms reflect her desperate and futile attempt to fend off her attackers: her own daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend (Tommy Schaefer).”
Prosecutors contend the recorded conversation between “K.W.” and Mack proves the central degree of Mack’s involvement.
When “K.W.” asks, “So basically she [Von Wiese] had to die, otherwise both of you would have gotten into other…” Mack replies, […] Tommy would have gotten into such trouble.”
Mack then reportedly told “K.W.” “…if the real the actual story came out both of us would be here forever. Like if we said the actual story with my involvement and with everything, not yeah both of us would be here forever there’s nothing either of us could do to help each other.”
“I know it’s hard though for (Schaefer) to have the whole world thinking that he did it. Because it wasn’t like that,” Mack said. “He would never have done it if, well you know, if I hadn’t of put him in this situation. He would not have done it; it was not his battle […]It was my fight and I just couldn’t handle it by myself and I shouldn’t have involved him.”
Mack’s recorded admission is similar to her six-minute online video confession in 2017, in which she stated, “I killed her myself and then I told Tommy that if he did not help me clean the room and get rid of the body, that I would tell the police that he did it, that I would pay money to get him arrested.” She subsequently retracted that confession.
Schaefer, who is indicted on the same federal charges as Mack, was convicted by an Indonesian court of having murdered von Wiese; he remains in Kerobokan Prison on Bali, serving an 18-year sentence.