A lawyer was misidentified in a story Tuesday about a Fairfax County murder case. Doreen Williams was the divorce attorney for defendant Patricia Schaefer. (Published 11/9/90)
It was a whodunit tale spun with murder, intrigue and silence; a case of a man shot to death on his porch, beneath the bedroom window of his youngest child, and although four people were at home at the time, they told nothing.
The silence continued yesterday even as Patricia S. Schaefer, 47, entered a plea on charges she murdered her husband, Richard Schaefer, 53, on the eve of a final hearing in their bitter divorce. Under the plea, called an Alford plea, Schaefer did not admit guilt but conceded that the state has sufficient evidence for conviction.
Schaefer, in a gray dress with her hair pulled back in a smooth ponytail, was sentenced to 20 years on the murder charge with five years suspended and two years on a firearm charge. The sentences will run concurrently. A maximum sentence on those charges is life plus two years in prison. She is eligible for parole in about four years.
Before going behind bars, she quietly answered the judge's questions about her plea. Two older children sitting in the courtroom's second row saw their mother locked away and one wept.
A trial might have answered the questions left in the tale, but those questions were left hanging.
"She was really compelled to not have the kids to testify . . . . She didn't want the children exposed to a public trial and air the family's dirty laundry," said Schaefer's lawyer, Chanda Kinsey. "She admits to the shooting. She denies there was premeditation."
According to Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan, on March 6, Richard Schaefer had gone to the house in the 3900 block of Prosperity Avenue, Annandale, for a 7:30 p.m. scheduled visit with two of his four children.
About 7:40 p.m., he was shot six times. Horan said he was killed with a five-shot revolver, meaning whoever shot him had to reload.
Schaefer died on the porch below the bedroom window of his youngest daughter, 12-year-old Sybil, who testified during a preliminary hearing that she heard noises but did not look out her window. She said she learned her father had been slain from reading a newspaper.
Horan told Circuit Court Judge Michael P. McWeeny yesterday that Richard Schaefer's divorce lawyer, Doreen Williams, called the police to report the shooting. When officers entered the house, Patricia Schaefer told one of them that the gun was in the bedroom and might be in the top drawer of a sewing desk.
Richard Schaefer, a retired economist with the Bureau of Mines, had been shot in the neck, twice in the chest, once in the left arm, left finger and right hand, indicating he was trying to defend himself, Horan said during the preliminary hearing.
According to court records, the couple, married Oct. 1, 1965, filed for divorce about three years ago, each charging cruelty and desertion. Horan said they were "engaged in a tumultuous marital situation over the years . . . a great deal of fighting and bickering and numerous trips to court" with accusations that "the dead man assaulted members of the family." Horan pointed to the finding of a county divorce commissioner "who ruled in favor of the dead man."
According to court documents, the commissioner found that Richard Schaefer had been physically and verbally abused by his wife, that his hair was pulled, he was struck with a tool box and window shutters. The commissioner wrote, "She also struck him in his face with her hands and threatened him with a potato peeler by stabbing at him with it."
Kinsey said yesterday the commissioner's hearing was unfair and that Patricia Schaefer had not been prepared to testify at the divorce hearing about abuse from her husband because she had no witnesses with her to corroborate her story. Kinsey said yesterday in court that Richard Schaefer had been convicted in Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court on charges of assault but the charge was withdrawn when he appealed.
"Mr. Schaefer was the perpetrator of the abuse," she argued. "He related to Mrs. Schaefer he wished she was dead and threatened her . . . . She was the victim."
Kinsey said that on the night of the killing, there was a confrontation on the porch, "which placed her in fear of her own life and her children. The shooting was a result of that. She did not come to the door with the gun."
Horan disagreed, saying, "I think he just showed up and she shot him . . . . The fact she reloaded indicated to me it was an intentional act."
Horan said the youngest children, Sybil and Garth, 14, told police they knew nothing about brutality. "When police asked them did their father beat them, they said no . . . . Both children told police they didn't like their father because they thought he was crazy. When asked why . . . they said, 'Because he made us go to our room when we were bad.' "