UPDATE | Watkins: 'Justice is a journey;' discusses Hoerig case


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UPDATE 11:40 a.m.

WARREN — After Claudia Hoerig's arraignment hearing this morning, during which she pleaded not guilty to an aggravated-murder charge and learned her bond would be $10 million, Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins had a news conference for the large media crowd and large gallery of spectators.

"It's been a long journey, but you know justice is a journey. It doesn't end until it's done," Watkins said of the nearly 11 years it took to bring Claudia Hoerig back to Trumbull County to face aggravated murder charges in the 2007 shooting death of her husband, Karl Hoerig, in their Newton Falls home.

"Karl Hoerig did a lot of missions for this country," Watkins said. "The system of justice must do its mission. We must be solders and work to bring to a conclusion a criminal case."

Karl Hoerig was a major and a pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserves who flew nearly 200 combat missions.

Watkins; Peter Elliott, U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Ohio; and other representatives of the federal government spoke about the case, but none answered the question many minds – what specific action resulted in Claudia Hoerig being sent back to the United States now.

Watkins discussed the efforts of the many partners involved in the long process and said ultimately it was up to the president of Brazil to give the go-head for her to be sent back.

Stephen Anthony, special agent in charge of Cleveland FBI, meanwhile, wasted no time in focusing his words on the veteran prosecutor Watkins, saying the reason Hoerig was brought back to Trumbull County was "the "unrelenting tenacity of this man right here, rallying the troops, making sure everyone was on the same page, working together for the last 10 years, along side every day the family and the many many supporters here, including the elected officials."

Anthony said the work is "a testament to the whole government approach led by Prosecutor Watkins bringing us together and never letting us forget what it's all about: It's all about justice for the Hoerig family and Karl."

Karl's brother, Paul, said later he agreed with that assessment.

"This is a good day. A long time coming," he said.

WARREN — Claudia Hoerig, 53, through her defense lawyers entered a not-guilty plea today to a charge of aggravated murder, and Judge Andrew Logan of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court set her bond at $10 million.

She is accused of the shooting death of her husband Maj. Karl Hoerig in their Newton Falls home on March 12, 2007.

Claudia Hoerig was returned to Trumbull County on Wednesday

It took nearly 11 years to have her extradited from her native Brazil.

The media are being kept in the back half of the Judge Logan's courtroom for hearing, and security in the courthouse has been increased. Several rows of seats up front have been reserved for members of Karl Hoerig's family.

Another person in attendance is Peter Augusta, a Newton Township trustee who flew missions with Karl when they were members of the Ohio National Guard together.

"It was devastating, obviously, for everybody. He was such a great guy, a great family man and a good friend," Augusta said of Karl and his sudden death.

"I'm just so glad they got Claudia back in the States. That's the biggest thing. Nothing's going to bring him back, but we need to get justice served here."

This morning’s arraignment for Claudia Hoerig will be anything but ordinary, as prosecutors ask Judge Andrew Logan to deny her the opportunity to be released on bail or set her bond at $10 million.

It’s perhaps appropriate that the hearing in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court will be held in the largest courtroom in Ohio because the public interest in the case will be enormous.

Prosecutors filed a motion in the case Thursday, pointing out the obvious: After fleeing to her native Brazil in March 2007 after allegedly killing her husband, Maj. Karl Hoerig, in their Newton Falls home and avoiding prosecution for nearly 11 years, she is a flight risk.

Claudia Hoerig “did everything possible to cover up, abscond, obfuscate or otherwise delay justice and trial,” the motion says.

It adds that “no words can fully explain the costs born by the community, the victim’s family and public confidence in the meaning of justice itself....”

One factor in setting bond is the amount of evidence in the case. The filing says the “weight of evidence” against her is “so overwhelming that the State asserts that the proof is evident or the presumption so great that the accused committed the offense with which she is charged.”

It adds that Claudia Hoerig was held in solitary confinement without bail in Brasilia, Brazil, prior to being released to the U.S. Marshal’s Service on Wednesday and brought back to Trumbull County because she “was deemed to be a serious risk to harm other prisoners in the lockup with her.”

Hoerig, 53, was born in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, and and was married to a Long Beach, N.Y., doctor for 10 years starting in 1990 before coming to Newton Falls with Karl Hoerig. She and Karl were married in Las Vegas in 2005.

She was held in Brazilian lockups for several years after being stripped of her Brazilian citizenship. But but before that, she “was able to live and work freely in Brazil” for many years, the filing says.

Initially, the Brazilian government refused to extradite Claudia by citing a provision of the Brazilian constitution that forbade native Brazilians from being extradited to other countries for criminal offenses.

But the U.S. Justice Department provided Brazilian officials with evidence that Claudia had renounced her citizenship in 1999.

Claudia Hoerig is charged with aggravated murder in her husband's death and a specification that a firearm was used. If convicted, she could get a life prison sentence with a chance at parole after 20, 25 or 30 years, according to 2007 court documents.

Those same documents, which lay out the case against Claudia Hoerig, indicate the prosecution has a great deal of firearm evidence obtained from the Hoerigs' 9th Street home and from the autopsy conducted on Karl Hoerig’s body.

Karl Hoerig, a Newton Falls native, had flown nearly 200 combat missions as a pilot with the U.S. Air Force Reserves out of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station. He also was a pilot with Southwest Airlines, having returned from a flight early March 12, the day he is believed to have been shot to death.

Claudia Hoerig transferred money from her bank account in Newton Falls that day before traveling to New York City and apparently flying from there to Brazil that night, documents say.

The documents suggest that Claudia Hoerig’s relatives in Brazil may have provided Trumbull County investigators with information relevant to the murder investigation, but it’s unclear whether they will be available to testify in her case.

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