CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A 75-year-old Missouri woman accused of killing her husband in Wyoming almost 40 years ago was found guilty of second-degree murder Thursday in a case that hinged on whether jurors believed her claim she was defending their 2-year-old daughter.
Alice Uden faces 20 years to life in prison during sentencing, which will be scheduled later.
Jurors found her not guilty of a more serious first-degree murder charge, which would have carried a life term. But they chose second-degree murder over a less harsh voluntary-manslaughter count.
"We are pleased with the verdict," Laramie County District Attorney Scott Homar said. "The jury made it clear that they believe she at least purposely and maliciously killed the victim in this matter."
Jurors deliberated for about 13 hours over two days.
Uden wore a grim expression as she was wheeled from the courtroom in a wheelchair. Her attorney, Donald Miller, said he plans to appeal.
"I don't think it's fully sunk in yet. But she's been a wonderful person to work for, and she's very practical and pragmatic about stuff," he said. "She just understands that's how it's going to be."
Uden, who has five children, had no relatives in the courtroom when the verdict was read, Miller said.
Investigators recovered Ronald Holtz's remains last summer from an abandoned mine shaft on a small cattle ranch between Cheyenne and Laramie. The discovery led to the September arrest of Uden, who was his wife at the time, and her current husband, who was charged separately with killing his wife and two children.
Police have never linked the two cold cases that brought the pair who were quietly living out their senior years in the rural Ozarks near Springfield, Missouri, to Wyoming to face criminal charges. Prosecutors could not mention the husband's case during the trial.
Uden testified she shot Holtz in the head sometime in late 1974 or early 1975, just as he was about to attack her 2-year-old daughter.
But prosecutors said Uden, of Chadwick, Missouri, shot Holtz while he was asleep. They also played audio and video recordings of her interviews with police to show jurors her story had changed.
Uden testified that after she shot Holtz, she emptied Christmas decorations from a 55-gallon cardboard barrel and stuffed his 175-pound body inside. She rolled the barrel onto the trailer porch and into her car trunk. She said she drove the barrel to the Remount Ranch, where she and her second husband were caretakers before he died in 1973.
Her trial featured emotional testimony from one of her sons, who said last week that Uden told him in the 1970s that she killed Holtz as he slept. While on the witness stand, Todd Scott also turned to his frail mother and said: "I hate you."
Uden was married to Holtz, her third husband, for only a month or two. A nurse, she met the 24-year-old Vietnam veteran while working in the psychiatric unit of a Veterans Administration hospital in Sheridan.
Hospital records cited at Uden's trial show Holtz had a long history of violent outbursts and drug use, and had checked himself into VA facilities 13 times over the previous four years.
"He was extremely violent, unpredictable and impulsive," Miller said in his closing argument Tuesday.
Uden said Holtz became abusive soon after they married in September 1974. She said Holtz had a job driving a taxi at night and, one morning, he flew into a rage when Uden's toddler daughter began crying while he was trying to sleep.
Uden testified Holtz knocked her down while storming toward the girl's bedroom. Uden said she grabbed her .22-caliber rifle from a broom closet and shot Holtz, from a couple feet away, as he stood above the toddler's crib.
Prosecutors argued Holtz was asleep when Uden shot him in the back of the head.
"The fun was over," Homar said in his closing argument. "The fling she had started was no longer a good time for her. And Mr. Holtz maybe wasn't the man she thought he was."
He said Uden kept changing her story when investigators interviewed her. At one point she told authorities she got the gun from a bedroom closet much farther from the crib - and much less readily available in the urgent situation.
Homar said in his closing argument that where Uden got the rifle didn't even matter much because there was no scenario in which she could have acted quickly enough to stop Holtz.
"Her story is impossible," he said.
In the other case, Gerald Uden, 71, has pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder for shooting his ex-wife, Virginia Uden, and her two sons in central Wyoming in 1980.
It's unclear when Alice and Gerald Uden met, but she testified she married him in November 1976. That's five months after Gerald separated from Virginia Uden.
While entering his plea in November, Gerald Uden was vague about his motive but said Virginia Uden, 32, had become "intolerable."
"Virginia did her very best to split Alice and me apart," he said in court. "She used the boys to do that."