JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A Chicago woman convicted of assisting her then-boyfriend in her mother’s murder and stuffing the body in a suitcase on Indonesia’s tourist island of Bali in 2014 will be released from prison in October after serving six years of a 10-year sentence, her Indonesian lawyer and a government official said Thursday.
Heather Mack, who was 18 when she was arrested a day after the discovery of Sheila von Wiese-Mack’s body in the trunk of a taxi parked near the St. Regis Bali Resort, will be deported to the United States the day of her release, said Rika Aprianti, a spokesperson for the corrections department at the Justice and Human Rights Ministry. Aprianti declined to give the date of Mack’s release.
Mack and her then-boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer, then 21, were convicted in 2015. Schafer received an 18-year sentence.
Her Indonesian attorney, Yulius Benyamin Seran, said the early release from prison is in part the result of a six-month remission of sentence awarded to her by the Indonesian government during the country’s Independence Day celebration this month, he said.
“Heather Mack has significantly changed in prison,” Seran said. “She (got) involved in activities arranged by correctional officers, she was entitled to the sentence reduction and will be a free people again in October.”
The pending release is the latest chapter in a story that has generated national and international attention for years in large part because of photographs of the suitcase that appeared far too small to hold an adult woman's body. Before Mack was convicted, she gave birth to her and Schaefer's daughter, Stella Schaefer. There were also reports of a troubled relationship between Mack and her mother, with officials confirming that police had been called to the family’s Oak Park home dozens of times.
In 2016, Robert Bibbs, a cousin of Schaefer, pleaded guilty to helping to plan the killing in exchange for $50,000 of money Mack was expected to inherit and was sentenced the next year to nine years in prison. He remains in prison. Then in 2017, the Chicago Tribune reported that court documents revealed that the FBI was investigating whether others were involved in the the conspiracy of Mack and Schaefer to kill Mack’s mother.
After seeing reports about Mack’s pending release, von Wiese-Mack’s brother, William Wiese reiterated his suspicion that Indonesian officials imposed the seemingly light sentence in exchange for money.
“I believe Heather’s original 10-year sentence was a travesty of justice and likely influenced by the outrageously large amount ($150,000) that the Chicago judge ordered to be sent to Indonesia for her defense,” he said in a statement.
Mack’s immediate deportation upon release leaves open the question of whether she will face charges when she sets foot in the United States. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago declined comment, but one legal expert said there is a possibility — though slim — that she could face charges if an investigation reveals she was involved in paying a bribe before sentencing.
“Charging her with murder again is impossible, but as a U.S. citizen you can’t pay bribes to anyone, so that’s how they could try to prosecute her,” said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor. But Turner said such charges are unlikely.
Upon her release from prison, Mack can under Indonesian law be reunited with her daughter, who is now 6. But Seran said Mack, who has not seen the little girl for more than 18 months because authorities halted prison visit because of the coronavirus pandemic, has asked Indonesian authorities to let the girl remain with her foster family until she can return to Bali.
“She doesn’t want to come back to the U.S. with her daughter as she scared that media will expose her and Stella to what happened,” Seran said, “She would protect her daughter from media as best she could for the sake of her future because she had nothing to do with what her parents were doing.”
Babwin reported from Chicago.