ST. GEORGE — The last of three defendants in a kidnapping-turned-murder case was sentenced Tuesday to 35 years in prison for her role in the 2016 death of David Heisler.
Kelley Marie Perry, 34, appeared in federal court before U.S. District Judge David Nuffer. The ex-girlfriend of Heisler was accused of orchestrating the kidnapping that turned lethal in reaction to Heisler being awarded full custody of their then 6-year-old daughter.
Perry, along with co-defendants Tammy Freeman and Francis McCard, kidnapped Heisler from his Santa Clara home in June 2016 and left him in the Arizona desert near Mount Trumble where his remains were found nearly two months later.
For her part in the crime, Perry was sentenced to serve 35 years in federal prison to be followed five years of supervised release. She will also have to pay $1.5 million awarded to Heisler’s family in a separate civil court ruling.
Perry took a plea deal in March and pleaded guilty to a federal felony count of a kidnapping resulting in death.
McCard was sentenced to serve up to 75 years between federal and state prison. Freeman was sentenced to serve up to 15 years in prison.
“She is the most responsible and the most guilty,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay T. Winward said. Perry could have appealed her daughter’s custody to the court, but instead chose to recruit McCard and Freeman into her violent scheme.
Perry, along with McCard and Freeman, went to Heisler’s home in Santa Clara with an intent to “scare” him.
Police investigators testified that McCard and Perry both 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.
According to a statement from Heisler’s now 9-year-old daughter, Mariah, that was read in court by her grandmother Debbie Heisler, the child returned home from a trip to find what was later determined to be her father’s blood in his room and other parts of the house.
The 9-year-old’s letter was specifically addressed to the judge. Mariah was not present at the sentencing.
“I am mad at Mommy because she killed my daddy. My daddy was the best,” the girl wrote. “If I could be the judge, I’d say to Mommy, ‘You have to go to jail and die in jail.’”
Mariah also wrote she sometimes felt it was her fault for what happened to her father and that she has nightmares of people coming to her home and hurting her like they did her father.
The girl’s written statement went on the describe what happened to her father next as she understood it.
“They brought (Heisler) in his car to the desert, and they pushed the car down a cliff,” the girl’s letter stated. “Mommy, Franky and Tammy left him in the desert with no water and no food.”
McCard told investigators he drove Heisler to a remote area on the Arizona Strip and left him alive standing next to a tree about 4 miles up BLM Road 105.
Authorities searched the area, locating zip ties, a pair of sunglasses and a pillowcase, among other items, but found no sign of Heisler.
In the hours after the kidnapping, McCard, Perry and Freeman 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.
Heisler’s body was eventually found in mid-August by a Bureau of Land Management geologist.
Read more: Body of David Heisler found
“I’m still pretty sad. We visit the cemetery all the time and bring flowers and cards,” Mariah’s letter continued, “but guess what – I don’t have my daddy. Why don’t I have my daddy? Because my mommy killed my daddy.”
The girl also wrote she fears Perry, McCard and Freeman getting out of jail and hurting her and her family.
“Moms are supposed to be nice, loving, take care of their kids, and love you no matter what,” Mariah wrote, adding that Perry wasn’t like that.
“She took my daddy and stole him. She harassed him; she was fighting with him, calling him bad names, and then she killed him,” the girl wrote. “My fears are so, so big because Mommy killed Daddy.”
As the letter neared its conclusion, the girl asked the judge to deliver the following to her mother: “I hate you for life.”
Moving on to her own statement, Debbie Heisler commented on how Perry, Freeman and McCard were able to strike plea deals, yet still didn’t tell the truth of what happened to her son.
“We have to live without knowing the truth of what exactly happened,” she said. “David’s sentence is permanent, and ours is as well.”
Perry also addressed the court and was emotional as she said she was sorry for what had happened to Heisler, but conceding it didn’t change what happened.
“Even if I apologize, I can’t bring David back.”
She also lamented losing the ability to be a mother to her two daughters.
“When all you see is pain you lose sight of what’s really important in life. For a long time I tried to numb that pain with drugs, not realizing all the important stuff I was losing in the process.”
She said the last three years in jail have helped her learn important lessons in the wake of the tragedy she was a part of. Being in prison helped get clean from drugs and better understand the magnitude of the consequences her actions.
“If I had one wish today, it would definitely be to go back in time and prevent this tragedy from ever taking place. I am truly remorseful,” she said. “I don’t know if the Heisler family will ever find it possible to find peace and forgiveness, but I pray that they might one day. … Even if I apologize, I can’t take that pain away. I can never bring David back, and that’s the most painful part.”
Nuffer said it was likely true that the period of sobriety Perry experienced in jail had provided the greatest change in her life since she started using drug at 12 years old.
“You are a vivid and horrifying demonstration of power of drugs on people. Many lives have been destroyed by your use of drugs. Who knows who you would have been if you hadn’t done that.”
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