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A former Wisconsin nurse accused of inflicting years of abuse on a cognitively-impaired woman and eventually murdering her has been sentenced.
Linda LaRoche, 66, will spend the rest of her life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1999 burning, torture and beating death of Peggy Lynn Johnson-Schroeder, 23, according to CBS Milwaukee affiliate WDJT-TV. Investigators say Johnson-Schroeder suffered long-term abuse at the hands of LaRoche, who was convicted by a Racine County jury in March on charges of first-degree intentional homicide and hiding her victim’s corpse.
Several members of Johnson-Schroeder’s family spoke at Monday’s sentencing hearing, as reported by Fox Milwaukee affiliate WITI.
“I know we look alike and have the same laugh,” said the victim’s half-sister. “And that’s the little I got to know my beloved sister.”
In court, an emotional LaRoche maintained her innocence, claiming that whoever did murder Johnson-Schroeder was a “more than a monster” and didn’t “deserve to breathe,” according to WITI. Just before Racine County Judge Timothy Boyle handed down his sentence, LaRoche went into detail about what she claimed were the real facts surrounding the murder, as well as her version of events.
LaRoche went on at length about where she found fault in the investigation and trial, even after the judge reminded her that this was a sentencing hearing.
“We all sat through the trial… I think everyone with any soul would agree this was a very heinous crime,” said Judge Boyle. “It involved the beating of a young woman and leaving her to rot in a cornfield.”
“This isn’t justice,” said LaRoche. “I’m sorry, I didn’t do anything like that.”
Judge Boyle said LaRoche placing the blame on everybody else was “scary” and that he and the jury had found themselves hard-pressed to unravel “lie on top of lie.”
The judge also denied LaRoche any possibility of parole, taking into account that she lived as a free woman in the 20 years between when the victim’s then-unidentified body was found in 1999 and when the body was finally identified as Peggy Johnson-Schroeder's in 2019.
Johnson-Schroeder was a “Jane Doe” for two decades until tipsters in Florida — where LaRoche lived in 2019 — said LaRoche had begun “telling people that she had a killed a woman” when she lived in the midwest.
LaRoche has admitted that she allowed Johnson-Schroeder to move in with her family (including LaRoche’s then-husband and five children) as a housekeeper and live-in nanny in 1994, after meeting the intellectually disabled woman at a Racine medical center where LaRoche worked as a nurse. Johnson-Schroeder, who was 18 at the time, had visited the center in search of assistance shortly after her own mother died from AIDS.
For years after that, investigators said LaRoche inflicted “horrific abuse” on the woman she took in, which consisted of regular beatings, burnings and forcing the victim to sleep in the crawl space. Much of the abuse was confirmed by LaRoche’s now-adult children.
When a dog walker found a body — eventually identified as Johnson-Schroeder's — in a Raymond, Wisconsin cornfield in 1999, the victim was determined to have been severely beaten and had injuries consistent with long-term abuse. The then-unidentified woman died of blunt force trauma to the head and suffered multiple broken bones to the face and ribs. Authorities said she also had burn marks covering 25 percent of her body.
According to a criminal complaint, the body also sustained road rash, likely from “being dragged from a vehicle down the slight embankment on the ground in between the first and second row of corn.”
Johnson-Schroeder was never reported as a missing person, and remained unidentified for the next 20 years.
During questioning, LaRoche initially claimed that she found Johnson-Schroeder standing in the kitchen after allegedly taking pills, and that Johnson-Schroeder collapsed. LaRoche admitted that she hadn’t called an ambulance and sent the rest of her family to go out for ice cream.
Claiming that she decided could no longer care for Johnson-Schroeder, LaRoche told investigators she left her in the care of the victim’s grandmother.
The grandmother, however, denied ever meeting the LaRoches.
LaRoche then changed her story, claiming that Johnson-Schroeder left with someone else. She changed her story once more to claim she left the “not-injured” woman on the side of the road, indicating that someone else must have been responsible for her murder after that.
At sentencing, LaRoche also blasted Racine County Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo, who'd said of LaRoche, “I think she should die in prison,” according to WITI.
Johnson-Schroeder’s family, including her step-aunt, Jenny Schroeder, agreed with Donohoo.
“We hope you have a slow, miserable time in your cage,” Jenny Schroeder said.
LaRoche’s attorney said his client plans to appeal.
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