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Woman to serve up to 99 years in cold-case murder

SITKA, ALASKA Jane Reth was scheduled to go on trial for Murder in the 1st Degree in October. Instead, attorney Jon Marc Petersen announced that his client would change her plea, and agree to a lesser charge.

Jane Reth, who was known in Sitka in 1988 as Jane Colville, admitted to Superior Court judge David George that she “knowingly engaged in conduct resulting in the death of Scott M. Colville,” using words paraphrasing the Murder in the 2nd Degree statute.

Reth appeared telephonically from the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau, where she has been held since her extradition from Illinois in January.

Judge George questioned Reth extensively about whether she understood the rights she would be giving up by pleading out – namely, a trial in which the state would be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to twelve jurors that she killed her husband.

Reth, speaking in a clear and calm voice responded “I understand.”

The state has not shown its hand in the case, which was re-opened a few years ago. In previous hearings in Sitka, cold-case prosecutor Pat Gullufsen has alluded only to taped telephone conversations.

The state was represented in this latest hearing by assistant district attorney Jean Seaton. Judge George asked her flatly if there was a “factual basis” for the new plea. She began with the basic facts of the case.

“Mr. Scott Colville went missing around April 1988 from here in Sitka. His mother, despite its being his birthday, was unable to reach him. After that date, no sign was ever seen of him again. Ms. Reth admitted to her second husband that the reason he wasn’t around was that she was responsible for his death.”

Seaton went on to explain that there were “a couple of other steps.” Investigators found Reth living in Illinois in 2007; Seaton says Reth also admitted then to killing Colville and disposing of his body.

“She had shot him while he was in bed in a trailer here in Sitka, and disposed of his body by cutting it with an axe and putting it in dark garbage bags. At that time garbage disposal was by incinerator, so no trace was ever found.”

Scott Colville’s mother attended the hearing, also by telephone. Judge George proposed a sentencing date of March 3rd – a Thursday. She said that would give her time to fly to Sitka.

Scott Colville was twenty-six years old when he died. Jane Reth faces a possible prison term of ninety-nine years, and a maximum fine of $75,000. Both the state and the defense will likely call a number of witnesses to participate at sentencing.
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