MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota woman who led authorities on a weekslong manhunt after she allegedly killed her husband, then went to Florida and befriended — then killed — a woman who resembled her, is now facing charges in two states.
Lois Riess is in custody in Texas, awaiting transfer to Florida or Minnesota for trial. If the Florida charges against Riess are elevated to first-degree murder, she could face the death penalty.
Here are some details about how this case might unfold:
Riess, 56, killed her husband, 54-year-old David Riess, in late March, then forged checks to steal $11,000 from his account, according to authorities. David Riess’s body was found on March 23 at the couple’s home in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, with multiple gunshot wounds. Lois Riess was gone.
The search for Riess began and seemed to intensify after another woman, Pamela Hutchinson, 59, of Bradenton, Florida, was found dead in Fort Myers Beach on April 9. Authorities said at the time that Riess targeted Hutchinson because they looked alike, then killed her to assume her identity.
Lee County Undersheriff Carmine Marceno said Riess was armed and dangerous and her mode of operation was to befriend women who resembled her, then steal their identity. He called her a “cold-blooded murderer.”
A national manhunt for Riess continued until she was arrested Thursday in the South Texas beach resort town of South Padre Island after someone recognized her at a restaurant.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Riess is charged in Florida with one count each of second-degree murder, grand theft, grand theft of a motor vehicle and criminal use of personal identification information.
In Minnesota, Riess is charged with one count of felony theft. Authorities have said a second-degree murder charge is pending, but they are taking time to build the strongest possible case.
A judge in Brownsville, Texas, ruled that Riess could be extradited to either state for trial, and whomever picked her up first could take custody.
David Weinstein, a former federal and state prosecutor in Florida, said the Florida case seems to be farther along so it’s likely that Riess will head there first. In addition, the second-degree murder charge filed by way of an arrest warrant in Florida is going to weigh heavier than the theft charge in Minnesota.
Weinstein said authorities in both states have to discuss the next steps together.
THE DEATH PENALTY
Florida is a death penalty state, while Minnesota is not. The death penalty is currently not a factor with the charges Riess faces, but that could change.
In order to seek the death penalty, Florida prosecutors must charge Riess with first-degree murder and that can only be done through a grand jury indictment.
State Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Samantha Syoen said the office doesn’t discuss such matters.
Weinstein, who is not part of the case, said that from what he’s seen about Riess’s alleged plan to befriend Hutchinson, steal her identity and then escape, it seems authorities will move forward with a first-degree, premeditated, murder charge.
But that charge doesn’t automatically mean prosecutors will seek the death penalty, or that it would be imposed if she’s convicted.
Prosecutors have to evaluate aggravating and mitigating factors. Some aggravating factors for the death penalty include how a murder was planned and carried out, the manner of death, and whether the death was heinous, atrocious and cruel. Some mitigating factors that might weigh against the death penalty include the defendant’s age or mental health, Weinstein said.
The death penalty issue could be a factor as authorities discuss where Riess should face trial first.
One aggravating factor for the death penalty is a prior crime of violence. So, Florida prosecutors could theoretically opt to let Minnesota try its case first, get a murder conviction, and then use that conviction to bolster their argument for the death penalty, Weinstein said.
Pete Mills, chairman of the Florida Public Defenders Association Death Penalty Steering Committee, said prosecutors in Minnesota also might feel that the death penalty shouldn’t be an option, so they might seek to try Riess first for that reason. They also might seek to bring her to Minnesota first so they can seek justice for family members there.
HISTORY OF THEFT AND GAMBLING
Riess has a history of stealing money and gambling, and authorities dubbed her “Losing Streak Lois” for her habit of frequenting casinos.
In 2012, Riess was appointed conservator and guardian for her disabled sister, who has the cognitive level of a 10-year-old, according to court records. In a September 2015 affidavit, a social worker said she received a report that Riess transferred funds from the guardianship account to Riess’ own account, then spent some of the funds at a casino. Riess was never charged, but was directed to repay her sister, court records show. An attorney on the case said she has not.
During her time on the run, authorities said Riess gambled at casinos in Iowa and Louisiana, where she won a $1,500 jackpot on slot machines and used her own identification to claim the prize.
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