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Heather Mack, ‘suitcase killer,’ sentenced to 26 years over mother’s murder

A woman who pleaded guilty to conspiring with her boyfriend to kill her mother and stuff her body in a suitcase during a 2014 vacation in Bali, Indonesia, was sentenced by a federal judge in Chicago to 26 years in prison.

Wednesday’s sentencing of Heather Mack, 28, marks the latest development in a long-running case that became known as the “suitcase murder.” The case attracted outsize public attention in Indonesia, the United States and around the world due to its grisly details.

Prosecutors said that Mack — then 18 years old and pregnant — and her boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer, murdered Mack’s mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack, in her room at the St. Regis Bali Resort, after plotting for months on how to do so. The pair then stuffed von Wiese-Mack’s body in a suitcase, which they left, bloodstained, in the trunk of a taxi, prosecutors said.

Mack was charged with “deliberately aiding in the commission of pre-mediated murder” in Indonesia and served seven years in prison, where she had her daughter, Stella. Mack was released in 2021 and deported to the United States — but was then rearrested on murder charges. She has been in custody ever since. In June 2023, she pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to kill a U.S. national — a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 28 years in prison.

The grisly tale of an American mom murdered and stuffed into suitcase in Indonesia

At a hearing on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly gave Mack a sentence that fell just two years short of that and ordered her to pay $262,708 in restitution to her mother’s estate and a $50,000 fine. The sentence was harsher than the one requested by her legal team: Fifteen years, minus the seven she served in Indonesia.

“This was a brutal, premeditated crime,” Kennelly said before announcing Mack’s sentence, according to the Associated Press.

Michael I. Leonard, an attorney for Mack, told The Washington Post on Thursday that Mack “had a lot of optimism going in that [the sentence] would be lower than it was” and is “disappointed.”

Leonard said he expects Mack to spend closer to 20 years in prison, after the time she served in federal custody is deducted from her sentence. He said she will also be eligible for further reductions in her sentence for good behavior.

Mack is the daughter of esteemed jazz and classical composer James L. Mack and von Wiese-Mack. The family lived in Oak Park, an upscale Chicago suburb, where news accounts suggest they led a privileged and socially active life. But Mack and her mother had a contentious relationship, detailed in a sentencing memorandum filed by Mack’s legal team.

Prosecutors in making their case said Mack was “devoid of empathy and remorse” over her actions. They highlighted how she planned and helped execute her mother’s killing, using her mother’s credit card to book her boyfriend’s plane ticket to Indonesia. They alleged that she lied to authorities in Indonesia and the United States, and routinely violated the rules of the Indonesian prison where she served her sentence. And they alleged that Mack killed her mother so she could access her $1.5 million trust fund. (Mack has denied this.)

“The fact that Mack was the person responsible for planning and carrying out the murder of her own mother, and her lack of remorse, including her extensive efforts to conceal her crime, is terrifying and indicate that Mack is still capable of committing the most heinous acts when she feels it is to her benefit,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum.

“The cruel, and inhumane nature of the crime and the calculated efforts to conceal her involvement indicate that Mack is devoid of empathy and remorse,” they added.

She claimed her boyfriend died after climbing into a suitcase as a joke. But police say she ignored his cries for help.

Mack’s lawyers argued she had suffered “frequent and continuous exposure to domestic abuse and violence” from childhood. She witnessed her father physically abuse her mother, and later, after her father became paralyzed from the waist down when Mack was five, her mother would “taunt and abuse” Mack’s father, their sentencing memorandum said.

When Mack’s father developed colon cancer, her lawyers said she “increasingly acted as her father’s caregiver,” leading to arguments with her mother. According to the Chicago Tribune, police visited their home 86 times between 2004 to 2013.

During another vacation in Greece when Mack was 10, her father died. According to her lawyers, she told von Wiese-Mack that she wanted to go home, but her mother “decided to continue the trip.”

In interviews leading up to her release from prison in Indonesia, Mack told the New York Post that the trip sowed the seeds of her anger toward her mother. “It was in Santorini that my anger at my mother started,” Mack said. “It never really stopped.”

Mack suffered abuse and violence from her mother, as well as her boyfriend, her lawyers said in their filing, arguing that her age at the time of the crime and the prison time she served in Indonesia supported a shorter sentence.

Relatives of von Wiese-Mack have called into question Mack’s claims about her mother over the years. According to the Tribune, Oak Park police reports written between 2008 and 2013 suggested that Mack was physically abusive toward her mother and stole money from her.

Leonard, the lawyer for Mack, said the trial was not designed to get to the bottom of this mother-daughter relationship, but rather to decide how much prison time Mack should serve in the United States given the time she served in the Kerobokan Prison in Indonesia. He said the judge acknowledged that it’s a “two-sided, complex story.”

In court on Wednesday, Mack said in a statement, “it doesn’t matter what my relationship with my mom was, there is no excuse … for trying to harm her,” according to ABC 7 Chicago.

Meanwhile, relatives of von Wiese-Mack read out impact statements that described the enduring grief caused by her murder.

Bill Wiese, Wiese-Mack’s brother, described her as “wicked smart” and “very thoughtful,” and said she loved music and books, according to the Associated Press. Wiese said, “if it were up to me, Heather would spend the rest of her life behind bars,” according to the AP. “We are relieved that the court today gave Sheila the justice she so rightly deserves,” he told journalists after the trial.

Schaefer, Mack’s former boyfriend, was also named in the U.S. indictment but he is in prison in Indonesia, serving an 18-year sentence.

Jaclyn Peiser contributed to this report.

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