Apr. 21—CHIPPEWA FALLS — A Chippewa Falls woman convicted in a "murder-for-hire" scheme in September 2019 was sentenced Tuesday to serve 5 1/2 years in prison.
Melanie S. Schrader, 49, 438 Olive St., was convicted of solicitation of first-degree intentional homicide in March in Chippewa County Court. She was originally charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree intentional homicide, which carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison and 20 years of extended supervision.
Judge Steve Gibbs ordered the prison sentence, along with seven years of extended supervision. Schrader was given credit for 587 days already served.
"The gravity of the offense is serious," Gibbs said. "Society cannot condone this type of action. Violence is never the answer, ever."
Gibbs added: "I believe the public needs to be protected, from a mother who tried to take away the only father a girl ever had."
According to the criminal complaint and police reports, Schrader repeatedly asked a friend to set up a meeting with a person who would shoot and kill Derek Gerke, the father of their child, in exchange for $10,000. She met in person with an individual — who was actually an undercover agent from the state Department of Criminal Investigation — and brought a down payment and pictures of Gerke, so the hit man would know who she wanted to be killed. She was arrested Sept. 12, 2019.
"I'm trying to take responsibility for my actions," Schrader said prior to Gibbs pronouncing her sentence.
Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell said that Schrader had talked about kidnapping her daughter and running away with her. Newell said she has untreated mental health issues. He requested 7 1/2 years in prison and five years of extended supervision, which is the maximum penalty for this offense under Wisconsin law.
"She doesn't take accountability for her own actions," Newell said. "She makes it seem like she didn't do anything wrong. She's the one who called the hitman and set this up. She drove down there and gave two pictures to the hitman and said 'make it fast.'"
Defense attorney Michael Cohen said Schrader believed her daughter was in danger living with Gerke. He said no further incarceration is needed; he requested an imposed-and-stayed prison sentence along with probation.
"Ms. Schrader is a good person who made a bad choice," Cohen said. "She made a decision based on information that her daughter was at risk, and the system was failing her."
Newell interjected during Cohen's arguments, saying all of Schrader's concerns were investigated and deemed unfounded.
Prior to pronouncing sentencing, Gibbs heard from Gerke, his wife, and his mother-in-law, about their fears if Schrader was released.
Derek Gerke told Gibbs that his ex had becoming increasingly angry in her rhetoric over the years.
"I would be a dead man if it wasn't for the (Department of Justice) and a brave person standing up and doing the right thing," Gerke said.
"I've never been so scared in my own home. I have nightmares, out of fear that Melanie will find a way to come and kill us."
Melinda Gerke, Derek's wife, told Gibbs about how she helps take care of Schrader's 5-year-old daughter, who has struggled with the news that Schrader tried to hire someone to kill her father.
"She will face unique challenges because of what Melanie has done," Melinda Gerke said. "(Her) trust has been shaken. I listen to (her) as she tries to process what has happened. It keeps Melanie's actions in front of our minds."
Melinda Gerke believes that Schrader's actions show she has no regrets, and will attempt to kill her ex-boyfriend again, and kidnap her daughter.
Derek Gerke's mother wrote a letter to the court, which was read out loud during the sentencing. She is disabled, and lives with Gerke. She fears what Schrader would do to her if she got out of prison.
"She paid money to have my son killed. Derek has too many people that depend on him," she said.