Great-grandmother receives five-year prison sentence

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Despite impassioned pleas from friends and family members, a 67-year-old great-grandmother from Illinois was sentenced to five years in prison Monday for conspiring to murder her granddaughter's husband.

Circuit Judge John Heisserer sentenced Helen A. Severs to five years in prison, despite the fact that the Cape Girardeau County jury that found her guilty asked that she get probation and not serve any prison time.

"Probation sends a horrible message to the public -- that you can conspire to murder someone and not pay much of a price for it," Heisserer said before ruling. "I have no doubt, that but for the intervention of police, that Michael Ravellette would be dead. I have no doubt."

Severs, who served 67 days in jail, will remain free on bond while the sentence is appealed.

The sentence shocked the roomful of people who came to testify on Sever's behalf.

"That ain't right!" one man said loudly.

Thirty-two people from the Ullin, Ill., area showed up to show support for Severs and several spoke, some tearfully, that Severs should get probation.

"I don't think she's a threat to anybody," said Sam Ulen of Ullin, Ill. "I don't think she should go to jail."

Others spoke tenderly of Severs, saying she had helped raise children through her daycare. Relatives described her as a helpful, caring person.

"I don't want to lose her," said one woman between sobs.

Public defender Jason Tilley declined to make a comment Monday evening, but said a statement on behalf of Sever about the sentencing would be issued sometime today.

On April 2, Severs was convicted of conspiring to kill her granddaughter's husband, Michael Ravellette, with her daughter, Linda Myers. Myers, 50, of Jonesboro, Ill., received a six-year prison sentence March 24 when she pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge.

Severs allegedly gave her daughter $75 to buy a gun because she was afraid of Ravellette. Severs also made threatening statements that were recorded when she spoke to an undercover officer posing as a thug offering a gun. Severs apparently believed Ravellette molested his 3-year-old stepdaughter, a charge he has always denied and never been charged with.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle made cases for both probation and prison, acknowledging it was a "very difficult decision." Swingle said prison was appropriate because the victim was afraid for his life and that the seriousness of the crime warranted such a sentence.

"This isn't first offense DWI or first offense burglary," he said. "This is first offense of conspiracy to murder another person."

Having said that, Swingle also said that probation would be appropriate, considering Severs' age and the fact that no one was hurt.

"My own opinion is that she is not a bad person -- just a person overwhelmed with hatred against a man who she believed to be a child molester," Swingle said. "She did the worst thing she ever did. And if we believed a young, 3-year-old boy had been molested, we'd have those thoughts running through our head."

In the end, the judge had the only opinion that counted.

"I am impressed with your reputation in the community," Heisserer told her. "But I have a very difficult time reconciling the testimony here today with the voice on that tape arranging to purchase a gun to kill this man."

335-6611, extension 137

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