Editor’s note: This article is part of our series that takes a look back at our area within the last few decades. This article was printed in a 2000 edition of the Clinton Herald.



CLINTON — A Clinton man confessed Thursday to the 1992 strangling death of a 79-year-old woman and requested that his mandatory 50-year sentence be imposed immediately, putting an end to a nearly 8-year-old homicide investigation.

Kenneth Orte Jr.’s admission to killing Evelyn Decker came after he was offered a plea agreement by the Clinton County Attorney’s Office.

Orte, 32, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He told District Court Judge David Sivright that he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol when he entered Decker’s home on the evening of March 17, 1992. While carrying out a robbery, Orte said he choked Decker to death.

Orte reportedly was employed to do “odd jobs” for Decker.

Shortly after the killing, Decker was found in a hallway between a bedroom and the kitchen wearing a nightgown with a telephone cord wrapped around her neck.

“I was responsible for all the crimes committed,” Orte said.

Four days after the killing, Orte was booked as a material witness. However, formal charges were not brought against the man until Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf reopened the case last year.

“When I took office this was my No. 1 priority — to see this through,” Wolf said.

A grand jury indicted Orte for first-degree murder on June 18, 1999. Orte was scheduled to go to trial on the first-degree murder charge March 13.

Following his plea Thursday, Orte asked to be sentenced immediately.

The request prompted Decker’s family members to confront Orte.

“I just want Mr. Orte to know he’s caused much pain and grief over the last eight years,” said Decker’s daughter, Sandra Lewis.

Lewis added that she was relieved to see the end of her mother’s homicide investigation.

Sivright then sentenced Orte to 50 years in prison. Orte will begin that sentence Feb. 5, the day after he completes a 10-year sentence for two counts of vehicular homicide.

“I can’t predict how long you will serve,” Sivright told Orte.

Under the 1992 sentencing guidelines, Orte will not be required to complete 85 percent of his sentence, Sivright said. Orte’s release date will be determined by the Iowa Board of Parole.

Orte also will be given credit for time served in prison since his indictment in June.

Wolf said he was pleased by Orte’s admission to the crime.

Orte’s confession marks Wolf’s fourth murder conviction since taking office in January 1999. Last year, Wolf and his team of prosecutors convicted Robert Robinson, Jamey L. Mills and Lisa K. Heaivilin of first-degree murder in separate trials.

“Clinton County is a place where justice will be served,” Wolf said.

Defense attorney Pat Kelly of Davenport said that Orte also was prepared to put an end to the investigation.

“Ken wanted to get it resolved as soon as possible,” said Kelly.

Kelly said Orte’s decision to accept Wolf’s offer was a result of District Court Judge Charles Pelton’s ruling in December. At that time, Pelton ruled the court would allow Orte’s statements during a 14-hour interview on March 19 and 20, 1992. Orte previously asked the court to withhold those statements.

“He had some tough choices after the ruling on the motion to suppress,” Kelly said.

During those statements, Orte told Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) agents that he and two other men robbed Decker’s home the night she was killed.

Orte told investigators that when Decker’s telephone rang, he was ordered to pull the cord from the wall. Orte then admitted to investigators that Decker was choked to death.

No one else ever has been charged in the Decker homicide.