Today is the first day in almost a month that I have sat down to blog. I moved into a new home and just have not sat down to do research. Per my normal routine I researched a few cases before I sat down to compose them. One of the cases I had actually started before my move and I would generally begin with that one. However, sometimes there is just a case that stands out to me and I am compelled to stop my research time and put that case together. This is such a case. The case itself is not overly interesting in the scheme of crimes that I blog about here but I think the motive and the behavior of the main perpetrator is what intrigues me. As the spouse of a disabled person I found her reactions to her husband's medical condition appalling to say the least. At her 2011 trial, her second, it was revealed that when she was informed that her husband, Jack Jesse, who was suffering from colon cancer, would need assistance in emptying and cleaning his colostomy bag she had reacted angrily. When questioned about the notes made by the nurse at the time, Sandra Jesse would only say she could not remember having such a reaction. Prosecutors would claim that this, along with the fact that Sandra Jesse did not want her husband's cancer treatment payments to eat up their “nest egg” was part of the motive behind her looking for someone to kill her ailing husband. The prosecutors also claim that Sandra had previously attempted to get her husband to sell their Placentia California home and move closer to her son, Thomas Aehlert near Phoenix, Arizona.
It was nearly 10:00 on the night of August 13, 1998 when a 911 call was made by Cheryl Deanda. She had received a call from her father, Jack Jesse, earlier and had gone to his home to check on him. According to Cheryl she and her father met in the driveway of his home around 9:30 where he told her his wife, Sandra, had left to run some errands and had been gone for quite some time. Jack asked Cheryl to go to the nearby strip mall where Sandra was supposed to be shopping and look for her and/or her car. Cheryl did as her father asked and was gone for about fifteen minutes. When she returned to her fathers home, after not finding her step-mother, she had gone inside and found him on the floor bleeding from what would later be determined eleven stab wounds to his upper body. It is unclear whether he had already died, died before help could arrive or died at the hospital.
Just a few minutes after emergency personnel had arrived on the scene Sandra would pull up in her vehicle. She would initially tell the responding officers that she had only been gone approximately five minutes but that was soon proven to be untrue. Once at an official interview later that night she would say she had been gone for approximately an hour and had receipts from her shopping. Prosecutors would later say that Sandra had been gone closer to two hours and that while two of her errands were to go to Burger King (allegedly to get Jack some nuggets to eat) and get bags of ice that by the time she returned the nuggets were cold and the ice was melting. Prosecutors would also claim that while her receipts did show places she had been, there was a 63 minute gap of time that was unaccounted for. To be fair, it seems that Sandra never claimed to dawdle around in the stores, one of which was Wal-Mart while she shopped. It is more reasonable to believe that her initial claim of only being gone for five minutes was an attempt to show that she knew her husband, who had recently had surgery related to his cancer, was weak and unable to care for himself for a long period of time. In fact, this is apparently why Jack had called Cheryl to begin with, Sandra had left him alone too long.
Of course investigators had to look into Cheryl's story. Not only was she the last person to see her father alive but she had also been the person to find his body. It obviously looked a bit suspicious that she stated she had only been gone for fifteen minutes and returned to find her father dying in his home. Cheryl's story is one of those types that people like myself, who read a lot of true crime stories think about. It just so happened that there was enough evidence to prove her story as being correct and enough evidence to point the finger in another direction. Sandra, with her changing story, as well as the condition of her items, helped make that happen.
Suspicion almost immediately went to Sandra and her son, Tom Aehlert. Once she finished speaking with investigators on the night of her husbands murder, Sandra would retain an attorney and within twenty-four hours of Jack's death it seemed that neither Sandra or Tom were cooperating with authorities. Despite this it would be several years before the case would be solved and anyone would be charged. Over the next several months following the murder Sandra would sell her Placentia home (obtaining a $90,000 profit) and obtain nearly $700,000 between life insurance and and a 401K account that Jack had possessed. She would buy two homes in the Phoenix area (one for her and one for her son), vehicles and even a boat while neither of Jack's two grown daughters received anything.
Over the next several years Jack's daughter's and his brother, David would push the authorities to keep the case open. Despite the original investigator being promoted as well as changing departments, in 2005 the case was revived and looked at again. The new investigators felt as sure as the first that Sandra and Tom were somehow involved. The cold case investigators also found a note in the file that apparently had not been followed up on. The note indicated that an anonymous caller had called the department sometime after the murder and stated that investigators needed to look harder, not only into Sandra and Tom, but co-workers of Tom's at a Target distribution center. By this time investigators were not only keeping close eyes on Tom and Sandra, they had also tapped their phone calls. The calls and the interactions of the two were interesting despite the fact that the investigators neither heard, or learned anything new.
Once investigators looked into Tom's co-workers they came across the name Brett Schrauben. He was very good friends with Tom and it would later be learned was also someone who dealt in marijuana and knew Sandra well as he also provided her with marijuana. As a ploy investigators reached out to people who knew Schrauben and indicated they were looking for him to be interviewed. They did this hoping they would contact Schrauben and that Schrauben would then contact either Tom Aehlert or Sandra Jesse. That is exactly what happened.
The most that investigators could hear on phone calls were things between the three (Aehlert, Schrauben and Sandra) was that they should not discussed things on the telephones in case they were tapped (which they were). But they would observe the interactions of the trio. While I did not see of any information of Sandra meeting Schrauben anywhere there were reports that Aehlert had spoke with him through pay phones and met in public places. There were also reports that despite the fact that Sandra and her son lived within a few hundred feet of each other that they would both get in their respective cars and drive to a location where they would get out of their vehicles and have conversations.
In 2005 investigators felt they had enough evidence or information (although I was unable to determine what it was they thought they had) to arrest Brett Schrauben for the murder of Jack Jesse. There had apparently been one conversation between Tom Aehlert and his mother that had implicated Schrauben in some way or at least indicated that, as detectives put it, threw Schrauben “under the bus.” Investigators believed that this conversation between Sandra and her son had been a staged conversation between the two hoping that if investigators were listening they would go after Schrauben and leave them alone. They apparently felt that once in custody Schrauben would keep his mouth shut, and they were right, for at least a long while.
It was said that despite playing the tape of the conversation between mother and son for Schrauben he remained quiet for nearly a year and a half while prosecutors were preparing his trial. It was not until they convinced one of Jack Jesse's daughters to visit him in jail (and apparently Schrauben agreed) and talk to him that he began to talk to the prosecutor. It was then that it seems that he implicated Tom Aehlert and Sandra Jesse, just as investigators had expected him to do. But, it still remains unclear what version of the truth Schrauben told them.
In 2007 Tom and Sandra were arrested and charged in the murder of Jack Jesse as well as charged with conspiracy to commit murder. There were special circumstances attached as the prosecutor believed it was for financial gain. It does not appear that the prosecutors were looking for the death penalty. The following year it seemed that Brett Schrauben made a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Part of his deal required him to testify against Sandra, and presumably Tom. It seems that by this time Brett Schrauben told investigators that Sandra and Tom had approached him about murdering Jack Jesse and that they had paid him $50,000 to complete the task in several different installments. He would claim that mother and son would push to have this done and that Sandra had indicated that she would contact him to tell him she was going shopping and that would be his cue to follow through with the murder. According to Schrauben's story, he began to get cold feet about committing the murder and ended up recruiting another co-worker of his and Tom's named Thomas Garrick. He would claim that while he took Garrick to the Jesse home it was Garrick who entered and committed the murder.
For reasons that I could not determine it seems that Garrick was not arrested until late 2011 however for the supposed role that he played. This was after both Aehlert and Sandra Jesse had faced a combined trial in 2009. That trial would end in a hung jury. The jury had voted 11-1 to convict but there was one hold out and it could not be resolved. Just before Sandra would face trial again in late 2011, her son Tom Aehlert would also take a plea deal that required he testify against his mother. At her second trial both Aehlert and Schrauben would testify against Sandra, which in turn made her feel she should testify herself, something she did not do in her first trial. Despite both Aehlert and Schrauben testifying that it was Sandra who had initiated the plot as well as being involved from the start, it appears that neither of their stories seemed to match up too well with each other. Defense attorney's would hone in on this and would attempt to paint Sandra as a loving and caring wife who would have never been involved in the death of her husband. Prosecutors however were able to elicit a different side of Sandra, especially when she testified on her own behalf. They were able to show that while she wanted people to believe her husband, who she had married in 1984, was the love of her life and his death was devastating to her, she had expressed extreme anger when it came to things like helping him during his health crisis and the money it would take to do so. When confronted with evidence to these things Sandra would often seem to have a lapse in memory and trip over herself. She also had a tendency to speak about her husband in a loving way and then refer to him as “lazy and superficial.” It appeared to the jury that the prosecutor was rattling Sandra's cage and it was not something that she was enjoying. Many of her answers to the prosecutor were riddled with sarcasm and anger, even if they were not answering the questions that had been directly asked.
In December of 2011 the jury found Sandra Jesse guilty of felony murder for financial gain and also of one count of conspiracy to commit murder. The following March she was sentenced to the California Department of Corrections for life without the possibility of parole. Thomas Aehlert was eventually sentenced for his role and given a sentence of fifteen years to life. As far as Schrauben goes however it seems that his deal also required that he testify against Thomas Garrick before he was sentenced. Thomas Aehlert also apparently testified at Garrick's 2013 trial but it seems he was sentenced prior to testifying.
Once again the two men told the story of Sandra Jesse wanting her husband killed and approaching Schrauben to commit the dead. They all seemed to agree that Sandra gave Schrauben $50,000 but Schrauben would testify that he had given Garrick $20,000 of that money and that he had committed the crime. Once again the new defense attorney brought up the holes in the stories the two men told but more importantly pointed out that there was no proof Garrick received any money or was involved in any way beyond the words of these men. The defense pointed out that Schrauben would claim that he had split the first payment of $10,000 with Garrick but according to their records just after this payment was made Schrauben made several purchases that amounted to nearly $12,000 on their own. In the end the jury did not believe the prosecution theory and acquitted Garrick of all charges. Later Schrauben would be sentenced to what amounted to “time served” by the time he was sentenced and would be released. Prosecutors would maintain their theory was correct although one has to wonder if it was to save face for making deals with murderers or they really believed it themselves. Garrick's family maintains their belief that Schrauben was the actual murderer and only implicated Garrick to lessen his own legal issues.
I found it interesting that throughout all of my researched there never seemed to be any information that included any forensic evidence against any of the defendants. It does obviously seem that prosecutors were able to prove there was contact, sometimes suspicious, between Sandra Jesse, her son, Thomas Aehlert and his friend Brett Schrauben but without concrete forensics such as fingerprints or DNA this did not help their case against Garrick. Although it seems that it took a while to get Brett Schrauben to talk and implicate both Aehlert and Jesse it was his confession that got things truly rolling. I agree that it does not appear that Aehlert and Schrauben's stories technically told the same story but in the same respect the stories come off as if they were piecing it together as they were telling it and hoping that they matched. In the same respect it does appear that each of them were looking to get the best deal they could for themselves and thus may have accounted for their stories not likely being completely true. However, the deals would not have had to have been made if in fact that the forensic evidence, which should have been available at the time proved the cases.
Today it seems that only Sandra Jesse and her son sit inside California prisons. They were the ones that benefited the most it seems from the death of Jack Jesse so one could argue that justice was served, if only at a fraction.