It couldn’t have been easy for veteran Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins to write a letter to the Ohio Parole Board on behalf of murderess Claudia Hoerig.
But Watkins, who spent the past 10 years making sure Claudia was brought to justice for the brutal slaying of her husband, Karl, is an honorable man who keeps his word.
In order to secure Claudia’s extradition from Brazil to stand trial in Trumbull County on a charge of aggravated murder with a gun specification, the prosecutor had to agree that the maximum time behind bars would be 30 years.
Brazil, which does not have the death penalty, imposes a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
In February, Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Andrew Logan sentenced the killer to 28 years to life and gave her credit for the three years she served in Brazil and Ohio.
Watkins, who has been county prosecutor for 35 years and will seek another four-year term next year, told The Vindicator he intended to write a letter to the Ohio Parole Board to ensure that Claudia did not serve more than the three decades agreed to.
The letter, which was made public by The Vindicator on Wednesday, states, in part:
“As part of the extradition proceedings, Brazil requested specific assurances from the United States prior to her return. As prosecuting attorney, I approved these assurances which were given to the country of Brazil pursuant to the extradition treaty between the United States and Brazil.”
The Office of International Affairs in the U.S. Department of Justice, which was involved in securing Claudia’s return to Trumbull County, also sought the letter from Watkins to have the sentence finalized and on the record.
Watkins’ explanation for why he chose to write the letter at this time, just months after the sentencing, speaks volumes about his character, his respect for the law and his commitment to the cause of justice.
Here’s what he wrote:
“Further, as currently Ohio’s longest serving elected prosecuting attorney, it is a virtual certainty that I will not be serving the citizens of Trumbull County as prosecutor in 2044 when Claudia Hoerig becomes first eligible for parole. Because of the unique circumstance of the case, I am now writing this letter to the board early with my recommendation so it is on record and legally binding on all my successors in office.”
As we said at the start, it could not have been easy for Watkins to write a letter that ensures the freedom of a killer who deserves to spend the rest of her life behind bars.
The story of the cold-blooded murder of Karl Hoerig, a major in the Air Force Reserve who was shot at point blank range by his wife in their home in Newton Falls, is the stuff of mystery novels.
After she killed her husband on March 12, 2007, Claudia Hoerig fled to her native Brazil, where she lived a full, free life for nine years.
But year after year, Watkins waged a multi-pronged battle to have Claudia returned to Trumbull County to stand trial.
He was assisted in his endeavor by Congressman Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, former Democratic Congressman and state Rep. John Boccieri, and other state and federal lawmakers. It wasn’t easy and there were times when it seemed the accused would remain one step ahead of the law.
But Watkins was undaunted – even when the Brazilian government refused to send Claudia, a citizen of Brazil and the United States, back to the Valley to be tried.
Arrest in Brazil
Finally in April 2016, she was arrested after Brazil’s Supreme Court revoked her Brazilian citizenship. While the justices voted 4-1 to extradite her, there were impediments to her return. The high court said the accused killer should not receive the death penalty or life in prison, which are prohibited in Brazil.
Watkins let it be known that the death penalty did not apply in the case.
Claudia was brought back to the area in January 2018, pleaded not guilty and Judge Logan set her bond at $10 million.
In her defense, she admitted killing her husband in their Newton Falls home but said she did not plan to do it.
However, the jury didn’t buy her story, and forensic evidence showed she shot Karl Hoerig several times.
This is a case that warranted life in prison with no possibility of parole, but Claudia Hoerig will be out by 2046. It is to be hoped her time in prison is painful – considering all the pain and suffering she caused Maj. Karl Hoerig’s family and friends.