La Pine man, 86, sentenced to life in wife's murder

Lawrence Loeffler can't seek parole for 25 years

POSTED: 4:40 AM PST December 24, 2013    UPDATED: 1:57 PM PDT September 25, 2013 
BEND, Ore. -

An 86-year-old La Pine-area man was sentenced to life in prison and at least 25 years before parole Wednesday for fatally shooting his 83-year-old wife.

Deschutes County Circuit Judge Michael Adler imposed the sentence upon Lawrence Loeffler, less than a day after a jury deliberated for about an hour, then returned a guilty verdict on the murder charge in the January killing of his wife, Betty Jane Loeffler.

Loeffler admitted shooting his wife of 39 years twice but claimed to police she and her daughter were conspiring to kill him.

Adler told Loeffler he did not believe his wife was ever going to kill him -- and even if she was, his actions were not justified.

The judge also told Loeffler he'd never seen a case like this.

"You executed your wife," Adler told Loeffler.

Loeffler used a wheelchair and oxygen concentrator during the week-long trial, during which his defense lawyers offered no witnesses or evidence. He would not be able to seek parole until he was 111.

At Wednesday's sentencing hearing, the victim's daughter and granddaughter addressed the courtroom, sharing memories of their mother and grandmother and playing a voice mail left by Betty.

NewsChannel 21's Brittany Weiner talked with the victim's daughter and granddaughter after the sentencing. Hear from them tonight on NewsChannel 21 at 5 & 6.

The eight-woman, four-man jury heard closing statements Tuesday, then reached its unanimous verdict in just an hour.

"We're relieved. We're happy that justice was done," said Deputy District Attorney Matthew Nelson. "Ms. Loeffler was brutally taken from this world. She didn't deserve what happened to her, and again we're just happy that the victim's family has some closure and we can all move on."

District Attorney Patrick Flaherty said, "We are very grateful for the service of the  12  jurors (who) ended up deliberating on the case, and returning the verdict, and two alternates that sat through some really difficult evidence. And I'm extremely proud of the great work that my staff did to accomplish justice in this case."

Both sides' final remarks to the jury focused on Loeffler's mental state before the shooting.

Prosecutors again used photos to make their case, saying the jury needed to remember the victim was a mother, grandmother and great grandmother. They also noted that witnesses testified Loeffler had mental clarity at the time of the shooting -- and has no mental illness.

But defense lawyers disagreed, arguing that Loeffler acted out of extreme emotional disturbance, which they said means even the defendant doesn't know what happened that fateful day.

"He believed in his disturbed mind that if he didn't kill her, she would kill him," said defense attorney Matthew Matrisiciano.

During the trial, Matrisiciano said Loeffler was overreacting to simple problems such his wife screwing the lid on the ketchup bottle too tight and then believing she was plotting to kill him.

But Deputy DA Matthew Nelson told the jury: "That's what Lawrence Loeffler is. He is a murderer -- a murderer. And he murdered his wife of 39 years, in cold blood."

The jury had to decide unanimously to find Loeffler guilty of murder. If they decided on the lesser charge of manslaughter, only 10 of the 12 would have needed to vote for conviction.

Last Friday's third day of testimony began with doctors speaking to his mental health and later turned to friends and family who spoke about the victim.

The family and friends who took the stand described her as a loyal wife who did everything for her ailing husband -- and said he wanted to control everything she said.

Loeffler's daughter told the jury of a phone call shortly before the January shooting in which she recalled him saying he "could not live with her any more -- that no one could live with her."

That prompted a brief outburst from Loeffler, who called her a "pathalogical liar."

Thursday’s  testimony featured a recorded police interview with Loeffler, who said she would have killed him if he didn’t kill her first.

The jury also heard from an Oregon State Police forensics expert about the two shots from a .25-caliber Beretta handgun that killed his wife.

The case’s lead detective, sheriff’s Det. Scott Beard, took the stand and spoke about Loeffler’s behavior, after which jurors of audio and video interviews.

They listened as Loeffler described waking up at 2 a.m., getting dressed and knowing that if he didn’t kill his wife first, she would kill him.

“The door was open,” he was heard saying.

“Then what?” he was asked.

“I had the gun in my hand – it was me or her.”

“Did she see the gun?” the interviewer asked.

“She saw the gun,” Loeffler answered.

“What did she think about it?” he was asked.

“She didn’t get much of a chance, so I shot her in the back of the neck – that’s when I pushed her outside. She fell down, and I heard her moan, and put it on the top of her head, and I killed her before she could kill me.”

Lawrence Loeffler called 911 on Jan. 28 to say he’d shot his wife in the head at their home on Old Mill Road near La Pine. Breaking down many times throughout the call, he said he couldn't remember a lot of things that just happened.

As a result, opening arguments focused on Loeffler’s mental state leading up to the shooting.

Deputy District Attorney Mary Anderson said in her opening statement that Loeffler said his stepdaughter didn't wish him a happy birthday, and he was convinced his wife and stepdaughter were going to kill him. Anderson said that's why he killed first.

Anderson also brought up the changing statements he made to police. She said Loeffler kept giving a "laundry list" of reasons to why he killed her.

As Loeffler sat at the defense table with a blank expression, using an oxygen tank to breathe, his lawyers said Loeffler is very confused and did not consciously commit murder.

Defense attorney Jacques DeKalb said shortly before the killing, Loeffler became fixated with death, after having his gallbladder removed and being placed on hospice care.

DeKalb also brought up that his step-daughter did not wish him a happy birthday, and Loeffler believed his wife and stepdaughter were going to kill him.

But prosecutors used pictures to illustrate the details of what they called Loeffler’s plan to kill his wife, noting that he shot her not once, but twice.

According to court documents, Loeffler provided investigators with two versions of the circumstances.

He initially said the couple was fighting, possibly about laundry, and he feared for his life so he shot her. During a second interview, he said he overheard his wife on the phone with her daughter and became convinced the women were plotting to kill him.

The trial moved quickly into prosecution testimony, with Dr. Clifford Nelson, a deputy state medical examiner, outlining autopsy results and the gunshot wounds suffered by the victim, explaining that the second gunshot wound to the head was the primary one.

He noted that after “gunshot wound No. 1, she would almost certainly still be breathing, and appear that she wasn’t dead.”

Det. William Bailey with the Deschutes County Sheriffs Office also took the stand and described evidence to the jury. He talked about the .handgun used in the shooting.

Sheriff's Sgt. Thomas Doscher, who also testified Wednesday, was one of the first on the scene. He described Betty, saying her spilled blood was still red and fresh, which meant she had been killed recently.

Deputy Keith Slater said the same thing when he took the witness stand. He also said Lawrence Loeffler appeared to understand what was going on. He recorded a 37-minute conversation with Loeffler in his home, as they waited for a portable oxygen concentrator so they could transfer Loeffler to the sheriff's office and then to jail.