Former Sitka woman sentenced in old killing

36-YEAR TERM: Illinois resident shot, chopped up first husband in 1988.

March 5, 2011 

SITKA -- An Illinois woman whose estranged husband told authorities she admitted killing her first husband in Sitka more than two decades ago was sentenced Thursday to 36 years in prison.

Jane Reth confessed to shooting her first husband in 1988, cutting up his body and disposing of the parts in plastic bags that likely were burned in a municipal incinerator. The 46-year-old pleaded guilty in November to second-degree murder in the death of Scott Coville .

The Sitka Sentinel reported prosecutor Jean Seaton recommended a sentence of 70 years, citing the seriousness of the offense, the grisly dismemberment and Reth's deception of Coville's friends and family following the murder.

Reth's attorney, Jon-Marc Petersen of Juneau, asked for a sentence of 15 years. Reth was seeking "redemption" for her crime through good works in her Chicago-area community and mission work abroad for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Reth, dressed in prison-issue gray sweat suit, addressed Superior Court Judge David George.

"I don't know that I could say anything that would make anything better," she said. "I do know I'm very sorry for what I've done."

Reth said she wished she had taken opportunities to get help when she was having problems in her marriage with Coville, and cited her lack of maturity at the time.

The case was reopened in 2007 when Christopher Reth, Jane Reth's last husband, sought to have his marriage annulled by the Roman Catholic Church. He told a church investigator that his wife had told him about murdering Coville. The investigator notified Alaska authorities.

Alaska State Troopers investigator James Gallen testified Thursday that officers found the trailer where the couple lived. The carpet, pad and flooring had been replaced and the wall paneling had been covered with gypsum wallboard.

Investigators tore off the wallboard and floor covering down to the subfloor and found blood stains. A DNA analysis proved the blood came from Scott Coville.

Christopher Reth also cooperated with the investigation and allowed a phone conversation with his estranged wife -- in which she admitted the murder -- to be tape-recorded.

Troopers went to Illinois, where Reth was living, and confronted her with the evidence. She confessed to shooting Coville with a .357 magnum handgun as he slept in their bedroom.

She also said she chopped up the body on the bed with a long-handled ax, and told troopers that she disposed of the body parts and the bloody mattress in large metal trash bins. At the time, Sitka burned solid waste in a municipal incinerator.

Reth was indicted Jan. 8, 2010, and arrested a few days later in Oswego, Ill., by the Kendall County Sherriff's Office.

Petersen tried to make a case that Reth had been abused and cited three incidents, including a stay at a shelter.

Judge George said there had been no evidence of domestic violence other than Reth's recent statements. He said Reth murdered Coville because she was afraid he would leave her and she would be alone, not because she was afraid.

He said Reth had intentionally murdered her husband and showed a level of calculation and callousness.

"You did nothing to relieve the anguish of friends and family," George said.

The judge also cited Reth's deception about Coville to his family, including a Mother's Day card sent to Coville's mother a few weeks after the murder, signed, "Scott and Jane." Reth later sent a multi-page letter to Reta Coville, blaming her son for problems in the marriage in part because he used marijuana.

Judge George set the sentence at 55 years, with 19 suspended. With good behavior in prison she may be eligible for release in 24 years, which means she will be close to her 70th birthday, George said.

Coville's mother, who lives in California, told reporters the sentence will allow her to start bringing up good memories about her only child.

Petersen said he was disappointed by the sentence for his client. He said a shorter prison term would have been appropriate given Reth's age at the time of the crime, her life in the 22 years since then, and her efforts at redemption.

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