RYAN J. FOLEY
IOWA CITY — Delinquent child support payments owed to a woman serving life in prison for murder will be garnished to pay restitution to her victim's family, an Iowa judge has ruled.
Tracey Richter, 48, does not need the financial support that she is owed from her ex-husband because she no longer has any dependent children and doesn't need money for herself, Judge Kurt Wilke ruled last week.
Wilke ordered that $2,000 recently paid by Richter's ex-husband, Michael Roberts, on his outstanding child support obligation will go toward the $150,000 restitution that Richter owes the family of victim Dustin Wehde.
Richter is incarcerated in Mitchellville for the 2001 killing of 20-year-old Wehde in Early, Iowa. She was convicted of first-degree murder in 2011 following a trial in which she unsuccessfully argued that she shot Wehde in self-defense to protect her children. Instead, jurors agreed with the prosecution that Richter killed Wehde as part of a plot to frame her first ex-husband, John Pitman, to gain an advantage in their custody fight.
After Richter was arrested, Roberts eventually obtained custody of the two children they had together and moved to his native Australia. He and Richter had fought since 2004 over the terms of their divorce settlement and children's custody.
Despite Richter's conviction and loss of custody, a judge ruled that Roberts needed to pay Richter delinquent child support and divorce settlement payments that he owed. A February court order requires Roberts to pay $250 per month toward the balance, which he said is about $45,000 in child support and $60,000 in property and attorneys' fees.
Sac County Attorney Ben Smith, who prosecuted Richter, earlier this year moved to garnish the child support payments. He noted that Richter had paid a few hundred dollars toward the victim restitution of $150,000. She owes an additional $90,000 in court costs, but under Iowa law, the victim's family receives any available money first.
Smith said that court officials would wait to see whether Richter appeals Wilke's order before sending any funds to Wehde's mother, Mona Wehde. Richter has 30 days to appeal.
Smith said he would keep trying to garnish all such funds, including the proceeds of a planned sale of an apartment building Roberts owns in the northwest Iowa town of Aurelia.
Richter's attorney, Mark Hinshaw, said he was considering an appeal of Wilke's order but "the real fight" will be over the building proceeds. He said Richter wasn't given proper notice of the garnishment, and that the funds should go to her family members who helped financially support the couple's children.
"If this guy would have paid his child support on time, this money would have been spent on the kids and would have been gone by now," he said.
Roberts has long contended that prior orders requiring him to pay child support were unjust and unaffordable given his struggling finances. He said he "shouldn't have to pay Tracey's debts for her."
"But my wife and I are happy that at least it's going to a good cause," he said, of the payments going to Wehde's family.
Richter, meanwhile, is required to pay Roberts $20 a month in child support under a separate court order.
Separately, Smith has filed an order to garnish funds from Richter's prison accounts. A June 3 order requires prison officials to garnish all money from her phone account, and 50 percent of her account used to buy things like stamps and shampoo. He said so far about $800 has been garnished, but that Richter would have a chance to challenge that collection.