ST. GEORGE — After more than a year in the court system, a second defendant in the kidnapping and death of Santa Clara resident David Heisler will serve time in prison after entering a guilty plea Tuesday in 5th District Court.
Tammy Renee Freeman, 55, appeared before Judge Jeffrey Wilcox in St. George with her defense attorney, Gary Pendleton, and pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping, aggravated burglary and theft of a motor vehicle.
For her role in the abduction of David Heisler, Freeman was arrested July 9, 2016, and charged in Washington County with first-degree felony aggravated kidnapping and aggravated burglary and a second-degree felony theft. She was later additionally charged with murder and kidnapping in Arizona.
In exchange for her plea agreement, Freeman’s first-degree felony charges were reduced to second-degree felonies, and prosecutors will ask that the judge sentence Freeman to the statutory term of one to 15 years in prison, Washington County Deputy Attorney Zachary Weiland said Tuesday.
Freeman will be given credit for time served.
As a condition of the plea agreement, Arizona and the U.S. Attorney’s office will not pursue charges against Freeman.
Weiland said the Heisler family had been consulted prior to Tuesday’s hearing and had agreed to the plea.
Kenneth and Debbie Heisler, David Heisler’s father and stepmother, have been raising David Heisler’s daughter, Mariah, since the day he went missing.
After learning of Freeman’s plea deal last week, Debbie Heisler said in a statement:
Having to live without David is absolutely the most empty feeling in the world. But, it is not hopeless. His daughter, who is so much like him is here to remind us of just how precious and gentle his love has always been and will continue to be. …
At the end of the day, no matter what their charges or sentences are, our family has to live with the outcome first and foremost and through prayers and our son’s incredible love that still shows through, we know he would be ok with it too.
After all, he lived his life for Mariah and protected her no matter what and he died a hero. He would want us to begin our lives again and give her a happy and healthy home to do it in. He does not want us to live in pain and suffering for the rest of our lives. …
A kidnapping that led to death
Freeman and co-defendants Kelley Marie Perry and Francis Lee McCard are accused of kidnapping 30-year-old Heisler from his Santa Clara home on June 27, 2016, and taking him to a desolate area near the Utah-Arizona border where he was either killed or left to die in the extreme heat after being assaulted.
During the police investigation, McCard allegedly admitted to going to Heisler’s home with the two co-defendants the morning of June 27 with the intent to “scare” Heisler, who had just been awarded sole custody of his daughter, Mariah, on June 13, after years of related legal proceedings with Perry.
McCard and Perry both reportedly admitted to tying up Heisler, assaulting him in his home, placing a pillowcase over his head and forcing him into the backseat of his car before driving to the Utah-Arizona border.
McCard reportedly told investigators he drove Heisler to a remote area on the Arizona Strip and had left Heisler alive standing next to a tree about 4.1 miles up BLM Road 105 – approximately 40 miles away from home, according to court documents.
Authorities searched the area, locating zip ties, a pair of sunglasses and a pillowcase, among other items. However, at the time, they found no sign of Heisler.
In the hours after the kidnapping, McCard, Perry and Freeman allegedly gambled in Mesquite with money stolen from Heisler’s home. Based on surveillance footage, Perry and Freeman also allegedly helped McCard disguise his appearance by shaving his head in a bathroom at the Virgin River Casino after ditching Heisler’s car in Beaver Dam, Arizona.
Read more: Body of David Heisler found
Following the kidnapping, an extensive seven-and-a-half-week search for Heisler ensued before coming to an end Aug. 18, 2016, when Heisler’s body was discovered by a geologist in the Mt. Trumbull region of the Arizona Strip.
McCard and Perry were also charged in Washington County with first-degree felony aggravated kidnapping and aggravated burglary and a second-degree felony theft, and were both later additionally charged with murder and kidnapping in Arizona.
After accepting a plea deal in federal court earlier this month, McCard will serve 75 years in prison on one count of kidnapping resulting in death. As a condition of McCard’s plea agreement, in addition to pleading guilty to his federal charge, McCard must plead guilty to first-degree murder and class 2 felony kidnapping charges he faces in Arizona.
A preliminary hearing for Perry is scheduled for April 9.
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