Court upholds Clay Waller's federal sentence

Sunday, August 26, 2012
Clay Waller is led out of the Cape Girardeau County Courthouse after his preliminary hearing Wednesday, July 25, 2012. Waller is charged with the murder of his wife Jacque who went missing June 1, 2011. (Adam Vogler)

Click here to download the appeals court opinion

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a five-year federal prison sentence handed down to Clay Waller for making threats over the Internet to the sister of his still-missing wife, Jacque Waller.

Clay Waller faces separate state charges in Cape Girardeau County of murder and tampering with evidence in connection with Jacque Waller's disappearance June 1, 2011. In October, Clay Waller pleaded guilty to threatening Cheryl Brenneke, his wife's sister, on the Internet site Topix and later received a maximum five-year sentence from U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Limbaugh.

The district court's decision to impose a maximum sentence was partially based on suspicion that Clay Waller murdered his wife, according to court documents. Three federal court judges agreed with that decision, stating that evidence the government presented to the district court at the sentencing hearing makes the district court's findings "plausible."

Clay Waller's attorney, Scott Tilsen, wrote in the appeal that the district court miscalculated sentencing under guidelines regarding "vulnerable" victims, erroneously alleged Clay Waller killed his wife and used the alleged murder to impose the maximum sentence.

The federal prosecutor in the case, Larry Ferrell, argued against those claims in a brief he filed in April, saying that the uncharged conduct could be considered in sentencing. On Friday, Ferrell called Clay Waller's threats to Brenneke "a particularly reprehensible offense" and said the federal court's decision gave the case a fair outcome.

The post Clay Waller entered on the Topix website stated "You are dead I promise if those kids get hurt, your fault, accident, nobody's fault. Your dad threaten clay, I know he's all talk, I will get you, 5, 10, 25 years from now. You have it coming."

"He deserved the sentence he received, and justice was done," Ferrell said.

The threats to Brenneke were made last summer after she received custody of the couple's three children. Clay Waller began serving the federal sentence in a Louisiana prison following his conviction in January. He has since been brought back to Cape Girardeau County, where he remains in custody while awaiting the next step in the murder trial. He pleaded not guilty to the charge during an arraignment Aug. 13. A case review is set for Oct. 22, but in the meantime, Waller's attorney, public defender Chris Davis, has filed a motion to request a change of venue, claiming a fair trial in Cape Girardeau County is not possible due to intense media coverage.

Laura Helbig, a spokeswoman for Brenneke and Jacque Waller's parents, Stan and Ruby Rawson, said Friday that the family is all "extremely pleased" with the federal court's decision.

Jacque Waller's family take care of her 6-year-old triplets she had with Clay Waller.

"One of the concerns was that if Clay Waller didn't serve the entire five years, that he would be in the kids lives early, and they just don't want that," Helbig said. "Now Cheryl doesn't have to worry about him for a long time, which is a good thing."

Helbig said the family's focus can now fully move to the murder trial.

eragan@semissourian.com

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