CHICAGO (CN) — Heather Mack, the 26-year-old Illinois native facing murder conspiracy charges for the 2014 killing of her mother Sheila von Wiese-Mack in Bali, Indonesia, appeared in federal court Wednesday for a hearing to decide whether she would remain in jail as her case progresses.
Mack, who is from the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, was convicted in Indonesian court in 2015 of murdering her mother while on vacation in Bali. She was released early and deported to the United States, and was arrested when she landed at Chicago's O'Hare Airport last week.
Less than 15 minutes after Mack was led into the courtroom in ankle chains on Wednesday, both state prosecutors and Mack's lead attorney agreed that she would stay detained - though with the possibility of future pretrial release.
The state's lead attorney in the case, Terry Kinney, told U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle, a Ronald Reagan appointee, that the decision to leave Mack in her chains and orange inmate jumpsuit was agreed upon between the prosecution and defense before the hearing even began. Kinney suggested to have the next hearing in the case set for sometime in February of 2022. Norgle instead chose to move that timetable up by about a month, citing Mack's continued detainment needing to be balanced against her right to a speedy trial.
"In light of the detainment... let's set the matter for mid-January," Norgle said, ultimately settling on Jan. 18 for the next status hearing in the case.
Before the hearing ended, Mack's local court-appointed attorney Keith Spielfogel complained to Norgle about a lack of representation on Mack's behalf. Brian Claypool, a California attorney who has previously represented Mack, was not in court Wednesday and is not currently listed as an attorney for Mack on the case's docket sheet. Claypool also previously said he would seek a low bail for Mack's release, though the case's pretrial bail report has not been unsealed by the court.
Norgle dismissed Spielfogel’s concern, but reminded Mack directly that she has the right to hire private counsel at any time. Claypool's office did not immediately return a request for comment on his current role in the case.
Mack declined to make any statements on her own behalf before being led out of the courtroom by U.S. Marshals. However, Bill Wiese, the brother of Mack's mother, the murdered Sheila von Wiese-Mack, gave a statement to reporters following the hearing, in which he thanked the U.S. Justice Department for pursuing the case.
“Debbi and I are incredibly relieved and appreciative that this decision was reached here today... As difficult as this is for our family and all of Sheila‘s friends, we are pleased that Sheila will finally have her day in court," Wiese said with Debbi Curran, von Wiese-Mack's sister, standing next to him.
Mack pleaded not guilty to all the charges against her in an arraignment hearing last Wednesday. The charges include not just conspiracy to commit murder but conspiracy to injure a foreign government's property and obstruction of justice. The obstruction of justice charge, according to Mack's indictment, stems from Mack and her former boyfriend Tommy Schaefer - who helped kill von Wiese-Mack in Bali and is also the father of Mack's own six-year-old daughter Estelle Schaefer - stuffing von Wiese-Mack's corpse into a suitcase and abandoning it near the St. Regis Bali Resort.
"Heather L. Mack and Tommy E. Schaefer... each aiding and abetting the other, corruptly destroyed, mutilated and concealed objects, and attempted to do so, with intent to impair the object's integrity and availability for use in an official proceeding, by forcing the body of Sheila A. Von Wiese into a suitcase after she had been killed and removing the suitcase from the place of the murder; and by removing linens and items of clothing worn during the killing," the indictment states.
As the killing of von Wiese-Mack took place in Indonesia, the U.S. government lacks jurisdiction to charge Mack directly with murder. But Mack and Schaefer allegedly began planning the murder on American soil via Facebook messages and texts months before they traveled to Bali in August 2014. The couple were allegedly motivated to kill von Wiese-Mack due to Mack's strained relationship with her, and also because they wanted their share of von Wiese-Mack's $1.5 million estate.
Schaefer's cousin Robert Bibbs, who pleaded guilty to a murder conspiracy charge in 2017, previously admitted to federal authorities that he advised Mack and Schaefer on how best to kill Mack's mother in exchange for a $50,000 cut of that estate.
"[Mack] asked me for my advice... So I told her like, 'if you would ever do something [to kill the victim], don't get your hands dirty... don't, don't like grab a gun and shoot your mom,'" according to court records quoting Bibbs.
Prior to her arrest at O'Hare Airport last Wednesday, Mack served seven years of a 10-year sentence in Indonesia. She was reportedly released early on good behavior. Schaefer, meanwhile, remains in prison in Indonesia, currently serving out an 18-year sentence for murder.
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