Hope Schreiner Verdict and Appeal

Hope Schreiner’s appeal of her conviction for the murder of her husband was rejected by the Vermont Supreme Court in December, 2007.

However, if I had been on the jury in the original trial, I would have held out for “not guilty because of reasonable doubt.

A brief summary of the case: Hope Schreiner was accused of drugging her husband one morning, then leaving the house to play tennis and run errands. When she returned, he was “still alive” and standing outside the house. She picked something up and bludgeoned him to death. An hour or so supposedly passed before she called 911.

I found the prosecution case to be weak in terms of circumstantial evidence, and I don’t like the sort of “direct evidence” used against her (namely, confessions to people who were not law enforcement officials). Why? Well, because law-enforcement officers are trained to elicit and evaluate guilty statements, but neighbors are not. And even the cops sometimes elicit false confessions.

However, the basis of the appeal seems to have been a convict’s accusation of someone else. But I can’t believe that should be sufficient cause to overturn a jury’s decision. That, of course, is ridiculous. I’m sure the Vermont Supreme Court did what was legally correct. Unfortunately, it means Ms. Schreiner will die in prison unless someone else confesses.

What particularly bothered me about the prosecution’s case during the trial was the lack of evidence of time of death. As I recall (perhaps imperfectly), the coroner never took the liver temperature. The body had lain outside in the sun for several hours before it was moved to the morgue. The coroner who went to the scene of the crime claimed the body was warm, indicating recent death, but the coroner’s report didn’t take into account an ambulance driver’s claim he had to crack the victim’s jaw to try to resuscitate him (indicating the beginning of rigor mortis at least an hour before the coroner arrived).

In lieu of a better assessment of the time of death I would have said that the jury should have viewed the evidence in the light most favorable for the defendant, and I would have said Ms. Schreiner’s alibi covered the range of time when the victim could have died.

Furthermore, all her so-called confessions sounded to me either like false confessions or confused “excited utterances.”

One witness, for example, heard Ms. Schreiner say something about finding her husband alive and using a bag. What this has to do with murder, I can’t imagine. The prosecution spun the words (perhaps misheard or misremembered by the witness) to mean that the defendant had put a bag over her victim’s head to smother him, even though the coroner found no evidence of asphyxiation. (I swear—they thought it highly ominous that a bag had blood in it—the scene was bloody.)

Then, too, the police never found the murder weapon. Without knowing what it was, how could a juror say conclusively that Ms. Schreiner had the opportunity or the physical capacity to inflict the wounds?

I also would have discounted the so-called confessions. People make false confessions all the time. The witnesses against Ms. Schreiner were very peculiar: her supposed lover, her daughter, so-called friends, and a landscaper who claimed he was sure the weapon had been a “potato hoe.” A potato hoe? I assume this has a long handle. How could anyone knock a man to the ground with a long-handled tool and then bludgeon him to death with it?

The case also seemed needlessly confusing: there was evidence of a heavy dose of drugs in the blood but that was not the cause of death. The cops found a bloody bag, but its use had nothing to do with the cause of death. The cause of death was trauma to the head, but the cops never found the murder weapon.

There was a “dog that didn’t bark,” too. Hope Schreiner’s son. Why didn’t he testify in her favor? Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Well, it makes a fiction writer speculate, in any case. My novel VERDICT DEJA VU speculates about a case rather like this—and rather like the Raynella Dossett-Leath case, too.

4 thoughts on “Hope Schreiner Verdict and Appeal”

  1. Ever read Ronald Dahl’s Lamb to Slaughter? It’s the story I think of when I recall the puzzling events of Bob Schreiner’s murder. In short, the best murder weapon is the one that vanishes after it’s been used. Why a black, blood-covered plastic bag? Well perhaps it WAS the murder weapon –just not ALL the murder weapon. The rest of it melted away in the hot summer sun as his murderer –presumably his wife –proceeded to craft an alibi. Those of us who live in the northeast are well aware of the dangers an large block of ice can pose. The more savvy among us watch roof lines in the winter before we park or approach a building because of the damage a 3-foot-long icicle can inflict. Well, my thought has always been that a cinderblock-sized chunk of ice was placed in the bag –maybe even formed inside of it. The bag is twisted in a way that there’s a sort of handle to swing it by, thus increasing the lethal strike offered by the block and the number of times it can be swung effectively. One hit from a seven-pound block swung is such a manner would be crippling, maybe even lethal. Three or four strikes from such a weapon would leave the recipient with injuries no one could survive. Then just let the weapon melt away. No detective would ever be able to convince a jury that a black plastic bag was the murder weapon that smashed a guy’s head in.

  2. Interesting theory. You–like a mystery writer–though, run the risk of understanding a bit too much about the crime. Why, at the time, didn’t you suggest this to the police or D.A.? (BTW: I also wrote about a melting weapon in an Alfred Hitchcock Murder Mysteries mag. short story, “Dead of Winter” that is reprinted in my The Evil that Men Do anthology).

  3. I might have mentioned it to Dan Davis in passing. But I was working as a reporter for the local paper was perhaps the last person any of the investigators or prosecutors wanted to hear from or listen to.

  4. This is my families story and I have all the answers that were omitted from the trail. It is good to know people still care as it will be ten years this June my father was killed, a trauma that evolves but never goes away

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