Kesser is actually a man who was CONVICTED of killing, not just a man who is ACCUSED. Now he will testify against the person who had the least role in the murder. Shouldn't that have been the other way around? When is he eligible for parole, Chris? How many times was she stabbed, Chris? Has anyone pulled up the old articles - you know the pre-online coverage? You post Chris Burgess' baby pictures. Let's see some crime scene photos so people get a real idea of what has just been done here. I guess this is what Gallegos means by "justice for all."
Kesser cuts deal in murder case
A Fortuna man accused of hiring a hitman to kill his estranged wife in 1991 reached a plea agreement with the District Attorney's Office Wednesday that could require him to testify against his former girlfriend.
Richard Craig Kesser's retrial was scheduled to begin this week.
Under the agreement, Kesser is required to make a full statement and answer any questions regarding the death of his estranged wife, Mary Kesser. He will also have to take a polygraph test and testify “truthfully” in any trial related to her death.
If Kesser completes all of the conditions, he will be convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. If he lies during questioning or commits perjury while testifying, Kesser will be convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life.
The District Attorney's Office also agreed to drop the special circumstance count of murder for monetary gain, a move which makes Kesser eligible for parole. As part of the deal, Kesser waives his right to appeal his conviction.
Kesser may be called to testify in the trial of his one time codefendant and girlfriend, Jennifer Gayle Leahy.
Leahy and Kesser were granted retrials by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals based on the actions of a former deputy district attorney. The appeals court found the former deputy district attorney rejected potential jurors “on the basis of their race, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.”
Kesser and Leahy allegedly hired Duane Chiara to kill Mary Kesser, reportedly for her life insurance money.
The young mother was killed in her N Street home in Fortuna on Nov. 26, 1991. She was stabbed multiple times with what is believed to be a machete-type weapon. Leahy is due in court Monday for a hearing.
Chiara has also been brought back to Humboldt County as a possible witness in the case.
”The parties have the power to call him,” said District Attorney Paul Gallegos, the prosecutor in Kesser's retrial.
If Kesser refuses to testify, make statements or take the polygraph, the plea agreement is off the table.
”That would be in violation of the agreement,” said Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen.
Kesser, with slicked back hair and a short beard, quietly answered yes to all of Reinholtsen's questions.
After Wednesday's proceeding, Kesser shook hands with his attorney Glenn Brown and was escorted back to the jail.
Fortuna Police Chief Kris Kitna, who worked on the Kesser case in 1991, said he trusted the district attorney's judgment.
”As far as the Fortuna Police Department is concerned, we are essentially satisfied with this agreement,” he said.
If the plea agreement is accepted, which won't officially happen until Leahy's trial is completed, and Kesser complies with the orders of the agreement, he will also be convicted of a felony criminal threats charge, which is a strikeable offense.
”If he's ever paroled, he'll have two strikes against him,” Gallegos said.
If Kesser is convicted of the second-degree murder charge, he may be immediately eligible for a parole hearing because he's been in prison for 16 years. Gallegos said it is unlikely that Kesser will be paroled.
Gallegos also said Mary Kesser's family was made aware of the plea agreement and was part of the decision process.
”They have to know; it's their right,” Gallegos said. “And it's common decency.”
A deal for Leahy will not be discussed now, Gallegos said.
”We have to see what Mr. Kesser has to say,” he said.
Brown declined to comment on the plea agreement, citing Leahy's pending case.