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John R. MALONEY

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Former police arson detective - Arson
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: February 10, 1998
Date of birth: 1957
Victim profile: His estranged wife, Sandra J. Maloney
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years on April 22, 1999
 
 
 
 
 
 

photogallery

 
 
 
 
 
 

fire investigation report

 

Green Bay fire department report

 
 
 
 
 
 

review of the death of Sandra Maloney

 

report of expert opinions

 
 
 
 
 
 

Life in prison for a murder that perhaps never even happened

Family and justice group want freedom for former detective convicted in wife's death

By Gina Barton - Journal Sentinel

Aug. 4, 2002

Green Bay - If you believe the prosecution, here's what happened:

John Maloney was sick of dealing with his estranged wife, Sandy. He thought she was neglecting their three sons. She was abusing alcohol and drugs. And she was missing court hearings in their pending divorce.

On the morning of Feb. 10, 1998, John called Sandy to tell her he would bring the boys for a visit later that day.

That was the only way she would let him on the property without making a scene.

But John didn't bring the kids. Instead, he tried to impress on Sandy the importance of attending a hearing the following morning. The custody battle had dragged on for nine months. He wanted it done. He wanted his 20-year marriage ended, so he could move forward with his new girlfriend, Tracy Hellenbrand - who was going to break up with him unless Sandy was out of their lives.

In the prosecution version, John snapped. The former Green Bay police detective and arson investigator bashed his wife over the head, strangled her with his bare hands, set her house on fire and left her to burn.

The jurors believed it. Murder, after all, was the only theory they heard.

But evidence that never made it into court suggests the detective's wife might not have been murdered at all.

John Maloney's children are growing up virtually orphans as he serves life in prison - perhaps not only for a crime he didn't commit, but for a crime that didn't happen.

John Maloney, now 45, met Sandra Cator when both were students at Preble High School in the 1970s. When John proposed shortly after Sandy's graduation, she accepted with enthusiasm.

John remembers their first seven years of marriage as among the happiest times in his life. Sandy was a sweet and doting wife, one who played hostess at dinner parties but wasn't afraid to go skinny-dipping when they were alone.

Sandy worked as a secretary while John completed a two-year program in criminal justice. He went into police work, looking for excitement and for a job that would have made his parents - who died when he was a little boy - proud.

In the early 1980s, the couple's life began to deteriorate slowly, he says.

The birth of their first son, Matt, was difficult; the baby spent two days in intensive care with doctors cautioning that he might not survive.

Matt made it through the crisis, but his mother constantly worried about his health.

The couple had two more children. Sandy was a "Kool-Aid mom" who looked after all the kids on the block.

Then, on the morning of a Police Department picnic in the early 1990s, she woke up with a stiff neck.

She went to a chiropractor but, instead of relief, ended up with a disturbing numbness on the right side of her body.

She feared she had multiple sclerosis, and although one specialist after another told her it wasn't so, Sandy didn't believe them. A neurologist prescribed Klonopin, a highly addictive anti-anxiety medication.

Over the next several years, the woman John fell in love with slowly disappeared into prescription drug and alcohol abuse. Her family struggled to get Sandy help.

She was in and out of rehab programs and mental hospitals. She wrecked one minivan. Then another.

Those closest to her worried that she would kill herself.

John slowly detached from his sisters - even the one who raised him after his parents' deaths - not wanting them to know about Sandy's problems.

He shielded the kids as best he could and warned them never to get in the van with their mother if she was acting strangely. When Sandy started arguing, John agreed with her, whether he shared her views or not. It was the easiest way to keep the situation from escalating.

An unrecognizable body

Sandy's mother, Lola Cator, discovered the body on the morning of Feb. 11, 1998. Cator had driven to Green Bay from her home in Madison that Wednesday morning. Inside, the house was unnaturally dark - darker than a house should be, even on a foggy winter morning, even with the curtains drawn.

"Sandy!" Cator called. No answer.

The living room sofa was a burned-out mess, and partially smoked cigarettes were all around. There was no one in the three bedrooms, no one in the basement. A single window was open, just a crack. Lacking oxygen, the fire had burned itself out. All that remained was the smell of smoke. Everywhere.

Cator walked back toward the living room, confused. Then she saw Sandy's charred body, seemingly melted into what remained of the sofa. She had not even recognized it before.

Across town, John walked out of divorce court, confident he would get custody of his three boys. The only hitch: Sandy had failed to show up again, so nothing could be finalized. John headed for his sister Ginny's house, where she and his girlfriend were waiting to hear the news from court.

John walked in the door and the telephone rang. A detective friend was on the line and said he was coming over.

John turned to his sister: "Either I really (messed) up at work, or Sandy's dead."

Accident or murder?

The first two fire investigators on the scene, Capt. Cecil Bailey of the Green Bay Fire Department and Sheriff Thomas J. Hinz of the Brown County Arson Task Force, determined that the fire was accidental and believed it started with careless cigarette smoking.

A search of the house yielded other potential clues. A kitchen garbage can contained five crumpled suicide notes. An extension cord was tied around a basement ceiling pipe, with one end hanging down. Two VCRs were stacked on a coffee table beneath the dangling cord - nowhere near the television set.

Throughout the basement, investigators used Luminol, a chemical that detects the presence of blood even if it's been cleaned up. The chemical showed blood on the coffee table, on the floor, in the laundry room and in the bathroom. Bloody rags and tissues were found in the trash nearby, and a bloody women's shirt was in the laundry hamper.

The basement shower door revealed even more blood - and in that blood was the fingerprint of Sandy's best friend, Jody Pawlak.

When Sandy's body was examined, there was evidence that she had taken a few breaths of smoke. However, her lungs did not have a fatal level of carbon monoxide, which puzzled investigators. At the time of the autopsy, her blood-alcohol level was 0.25. A more sophisticated blood-alcohol test showed that a few hours before the time of death, which was between 6 and 8 p.m., Sandy's blood-alcohol content was at least 0.36 - nearly four times the level considered evidence of intoxication in adult drivers in Wisconsin.

Nevertheless, Milwaukee County Deputy Chief Medical Examiner John Teggatz - subbing for the Brown County examiner, who was out of town - listed Sandy's cause of death as "probable manual strangulation." Teggatz had found some evidence of bruising around her neck. When he returned, Brown County Medical Examiner Gregory Schmunk agreed.

Because Sandy was the wife of a Green Bay police officer, local officials were worried about a perceived conflict of interest in their investigation. The Wisconsin Department of Justice took over. Special Agent Gregory J. Eggum determined that the fire was deliberate, a decision the two local investigators ultimately came to accept.

Winnebago County District Attorney Joseph Paulus was named special prosecutor on the case.

John was the prime suspect.

And his girlfriend was the key.

A secret video

Twelve years younger than John, Tracy Hellenbrand was an investigator for the Internal Revenue Service. She carried a badge and a gun.

At first, she provided John with an unshakable alibi, saying he was with her the whole night - except when he went to pick up Matt from an indoor baseball practice. She told authorities she would wear a wire to help prove John's innocence.

But months later, after numerous sessions with investigators, she began to believe he might be guilty. She said she may have taken a nap that night, that John could have left the house while she was asleep.

It was the turning point investigators had been waiting for. With Tracy's cooperation, the police secretly videotaped the couple at an Ashwaubenon hotel and at Tracy's mother's Madison condominium. They coached her on how to question John about Sandy's death.

They got nothing but a lot of heated arguing and emphatic denials from John.

And then, pay dirt.

Tracy had gone to Las Vegas, where she used to live, to get away from publicity surrounding the case. She had invited John to visit, and the Lady Luck Hotel and Casino had agreed to let police set up recording equipment.

As the grainy, black and white videotape of their hotel room begins, Tracy is wearing a long, light-colored tank top and no shorts. John, shirtless and muscular, has on dark shorts. The time is 4:49 a.m.

The John on the videotape is out of control. As Tracy accuses him repeatedly of killing Sandy, he laces his denials with obscenities; at one point, he rushes toward her, muscles tensed.

As 18 hours of tapes roll on, John and Tracy fight almost constantly. But a few details helpful to the prosecution slip out. The most incriminating scene is this one:

Tracy

"Why didn't you push 911 and run?"

John

"Oh, why would I?"

Tracy

"You didn't want to?"

John

"What would be on the phone then, huh?"

Tracy

"Your fingerprints."

John

"Right. And where would the call have come from?"

Tracy

"Did you go there to do it?"

John

"No."

Tracy

"Why did you go there then? . . ."

John

"To get done with the divorce. To get it over with."

"This guy admitted on videotape that he was in the house that night, and that means he did it," Paulus says. "This whole case was the videotape. . . . If the videotape hadn't gotten in, we may not have charged the case."

Suspicious of girlfriend

From the moment he met Tracy in a hotel bar, Milwaukee defense attorney Gerald Boyle was suspicious. Boyle wanted to talk to John alone. Tracy kept coming back to the table. Did John want some water? Didn't they need her help?

Looking back, John's family says Tracy acted paranoid even before Sandy died. When Tracy and John first became an item, she was leery of being introduced to his friends and sometimes gave phony names. Ostensibly to avoid Sandy, she moved to a house on a dead-end street overlooking the bay and answered the door with her gun if she wasn't expecting visitors.

On the morning of Feb. 11, after John's family found out about Sandy's death, Tracy and John's sister Judy were drinking coffee. As Judy recalls it, Tracy got up from the table and started walking down the hall. Then she turned around and said, "Oh, my God, what if they find my hair there?"

"Tracy, you've never been there," Judy answered. "Why would your hair be there?"

As the investigation progressed, Tracy hired an attorney, even before John did. Boyle found out she kept changing her story about the evening Sandy died. First there was no nap, then one, then two - the last one added to her story after investigators told her the first nap didn't fit the time of the murder.

Tracy agreed to take a lie detector test, but employed deceptive techniques such as pursing her lips, looking away from the polygraph examiner, and changing the cadence of her voice as she answered questions, according to a police report. Later, police discovered she had read a pamphlet about how to fool the machine.

Before Tracy agreed to set up videotaped encounters with John, she demanded - and was granted - immunity from prosecution.

In Boyle's view, the Las Vegas videotape made Tracy look just as bad as John. On the tape, she asks John if he'd planted one of her earrings - raising the question of whether she thought one might be found at the house.

Boyle fought to have the videotape disallowed as evidence, saying it violated John's civil rights. And because Tracy was a law enforcement officer, Boyle argued that she shouldn't have continued having sex with John while assisting the prosecution undercover.

Brown County Circuit Judge Peter Naze ruled against the defense; the jury would watch the tape.

Boyle and his co-counsel, his daughter Bridget, knew John's statements on the videotape would be hard to explain. Their strategy: Convince the jury that Tracy did it. Tracy wanted John convicted to remove suspicion from herself. As he had with Sandy, John dealt with Tracy's rantings by simply agreeing with her. When he said what Tracy wanted to hear, she rewarded him with sexual favors.

As the trial progressed, Tracy didn't give straight answers to several questions - not even those posed by the prosecution.

The first day of her testimony, she wore a sweater and pearls, with perfect makeup. The next day, her clothes were a wrinkled mess and there were dark circles under her eyes. The jury never heard why: In the middle of the night, Tracy had tried to leave town, and the police had put out an all-points bulletin for her. The Boyles chose not to bring it up, fearing it could backfire if she painted herself as a victim.

Tracy declined to be interviewed for this article.

A different scenario

John did not testify in the eight-day trial, which ended Feb. 17, 1999 - almost a year to the day after Sandy's death.

The jury was out for 12 hours. With every passing minute, Bridget Boyle became more convinced their client would go free. When she heard the verdict, she wept.

The judge ordered Matt, Aaron and Sean - all sobbing - ushered from the courtroom. Their father would be sentenced to life in prison, with his first chance for parole in 2024.

Within months, Truth in Justice, a Virginia-based group that tries to free prisoners it believes were wrongly convicted, embraced John's case. Sheila Berry, a leader of the group, is a former victim-witness coordinator for Winnebago County and a cousin of Paulus' ex-wife. Paulus, the district attorney, fired Berry after the two locked horns over a rape case in the early 1990s. At the time, Paulus was a rising star who aspired to be U.S. attorney. Local media nicknamed him "Hollywood Joe."

Today, Paulus is the subject of an FBI investigation that centers on drunken-driving defendants who have said they paid to get plea bargains and shorter sentences. Two Winnebago County judges also have asked the state Office of Lawyer Regulation to look into the accusations.

Paulus has denied wrongdoing in the drunken-driving cases, and he dismisses questions about his prosecution of John Maloney.

"This was a homicide," he says. "She received a blow to the head, she was strangled and set on fire. To say it's an accident, that's not only preposterous, that's laughable to me."

But to Truth in Justice - and to Maloney's family - what's preposterous is that the trial unfolded with no mention of the scene in Sandy's basement.

Berry and others paint this picture:

Sandy Maloney was distraught that night. She had been drinking vodka. She wrote draft after draft of a suicide note, all similar to this one: "Dear John, I hate you. But I really loved you. I am sorry. I am sorry. Take care of the kids. Love, Sandy."

Then the 40-year-old mother went to the basement, tossed the electrical cord over the ceiling pipe and tied a crude noose. She stacked the two VCRs on the coffee table, stepped on top of them and prepared to hang herself. But the noose didn't hold and Sandy crashed to the ground, smashing her head on the table.

As the theory goes, that's how her best friend, Pawlak, found her. That's also how she got bruises around the neck.

Pawlak, who had a key to the house and periodically came over to check on Sandy, helped her to a basement bathroom to clean up. They threw Sandy's bloody shirt in the hamper and wiped up blood from the table and floor with rags and tissues. Pawlak guided Sandy upstairs to the couch and covered her with a blanket. Then she left her friend on the couch with her cigarettes.

Sandy's blood-alcohol level was potentially lethal, according to James D. Dibdin, a California forensic pathologist hired by Truth in Justice. He theorized that Sandy was in an irreversible, alcohol-induced coma for five to seven hours before she died. As the fire came to life, her breathing was shallow. She died from a combination of blood-alcohol poisoning and carbon monoxide poisoning.

To bolster its argument further, Truth in Justice worked with eight arson investigators from across the country, who review facts about the fire. They all considered it accidental.

Neither this theory nor any of the evidence supporting it ever made it into court.

Prosecutors said the basement scene was irrelevant. The test with Luminol couldn't determine when the blood was cleaned up - it could have been months or years before Feb. 10. Forensics couldn't prove whether Pawlak's fingerprint was left behind on the day of Sandy's death or at some other time. When police interviewed Pawlak, she said she wasn't at the home that day. They never asked her about the blood in the basement or her fingerprint. She declined to be interviewed for this article.

As for Boyle: "If I would have tried to call this an accident, it would have been malpractice," he says. "I didn't have anybody who said it was an accident, and I didn't have any basis for it being an accident."

Boyle went to his own experts to review the evidence. They could find no fault with the findings that ruled out accidental death. Further, Pawlak, who was under no obligation to meet with Boyle's investigators, refused to talk. He had no way of knowing what she might say if called to the stand. It also bothered Boyle that the ceiling pipe in the basement wasn't bent, as he believed it would have been if Sandy had tried to hang herself.

The Boyles took the case before the state Court of Appeals but lost in September 2000. The state Supreme Court then declined to hear their argument. The defense attorneys next planned to take the appeal to the federal court. They never got there; they were fired in early 2001, and Milwaukee attorney Lew Wasserman took over.

This spring, Maloney filed grievances with the Office of Lawyer Regulation, alleging misconduct by Gerald Boyle. The grievances are pending.

"This is the most bizarre case I've ever seen in 23 years of practice," Wasserman says.

He plans to go back to court to argue that John didn't get a fair trial because of the quality of his defense.

Wasserman argues that the Boyles brought in only one expert witness, former Green Bay police arson investigator Randy Winkler, and he was a poor choice. Winkler testified that the arsonist was an amateur.

Someone who twisted pieces of Kleenex and stuck them in the couch to make it burn faster, but then didn't light all of them. Someone who didn't know how much oxygen a fire needs, and so didn't open enough windows. In short, as the Boyles concluded, someone like Tracy - not John, the arson investigator.

But on cross-examination, Winkler said he had been forced to retire from the Police Department because of psychological problems and that he held a grudge. The prosecution implied he would lie because of it.

Further, buried in police reports is a statement from Winkler in which he said he thought John was guilty.

What's more, Winkler compared John to serial killers Charles Manson and Ted Bundy.

"Why would the defense use this man as an expert?" Wasserman says. "It makes no sense."

Gerald Boyle maintains that Winkler is a well-respected arson expert despite his problems.

"Everybody thought John Maloney did it," he says. "I convinced him John Maloney was not guilty. I wanted one thing out of Winkler: that the fire was not properly vented and a sophisticated arsonist would have made sure it was."

Wasserman has another complaint: About the time of the Maloney case, Boyle was dealing with the aftermath of a highly publicized sexual harassment case involving a fired Miller Brewing Co. worker - the so-called Seinfeld case.

A jury awarded Jerold Mackenzie about $25 million, a verdict that was ultimately overturned.

Before the jury verdict, Boyle and Mackenzie arranged a line of credit from venture capitalist and sports agent Joe Sweeney.

When the big-money verdict was overturned, Mackenzie went bankrupt and Boyle had to repay about $300,000.

According to Wasserman, such financial concerns were a reason Boyle, who was paid $140,000 by the Maloneys, didn't bring in any experts who supported the accident theory. (Winkler helped the defense for free.)

Boyle believes John's best chance at vindication was to take the argument against the videotape and Tracy's role in it to federal court. But Boyle was fired before that appeal could be made, and now the legal time limit has expired.

"A horrible, horrible injustice has been done to John Maloney," said Boyle, who still professes his former client's innocence.

Wishes he could go back

John is incarcerated at the Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun, where he makes 18 cents an hour as a "swamper" - mopping floors, cleaning toilets, doing laundry and handing out clean sheets to the other prisoners. He says he wishes he could go back to the trial and explain that videotape to the jury. He would tell them he and Tracy had talked almost non-stop about Sandy. That they were tossing out theories of the crime, not facts.

That they were discussing different days when he'd gone to his wife's house, not the day of her death.

Most of all, though, he wishes he could tell the jurors that he knows what it's like to grow up without a mother, and that no matter how troubled Sandy was, he never would have taken her away from their sons.

His sister Ginny is raising the boys now.

She's also working constantly to free her brother, whether it's nagging lawyers, holding bake sales to pay them, writing to politicians or helping Matt with the family's Web site.

Ginny is the one who takes the boys to the prison to visit their father - and to the mausoleum to see their mother. On a shelf behind glass, Sandy's urn is a gold box with a raised rose on the front.

"She knows what happened," Ginny says. "All I can say is, help us out, Sandy."

 
 

Murder, or Suicide Attempt? Arson, or Accidental Fire?

John Maloney

Sandra Maloney was found in her Green Bay, Wisconsin home, which had been involved in a fire. Sandra's mother, Lola Cator, discovered Sandra's deceased and burned body on the morning of February 11, 1998.

Sandra was found laying face down on a couch in the upstairs living room. The phone was off the hook, and the outer storm door was tied from the inside to the front door with a shoelace (Cator cut through the shoelace with scissors to gain entry). Both circumstances had occurred in the past when the Sandy had wanted privacy.

The origin of the fire was determined to be the vicinity of her lap and involving the couch. There was extensive soot damage in the home with some minimal structural damage. All of the windows in the home were closed, except for a storm window that was open only a few inches. The fire was determined to be self-extinguishing.

Original arson reports from local agencies determined the fire to be accidental in nature with no suspicious elements or circumstances. However, autopsy findings suggested that the manner of death was homicide. A subsequent fire cause and origin report from state investigators reflected arson.

Sandra's estranged husband, John Maloney, a Detective in the Green Bay Police Department, was developed as a suspect given their impending divorce, ongoing child custody battle and history of domestic disputes. Subsequently, John Maloney's girlfriend, Tracy Hellenbrand, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division in Green Bay, was employed by investigators to elicit a confession from him.

Despite the failure of Hellenbrand to elicit a confession and despite the lack of any evidence of his presence at the scene, John Maloney was tried and convicted on charges of first-degree homicide, arson and mutilating a corpse in February of 1999.

Background

Sandra married John Maloney, a Detective with the Green Bay Police department in 1978. According to Sandra's statements to her psychiatrist, this was a turbulent relationship during which she suffered physical and emotional abuse.

She and John Maloney separated during May or June of 1997. They were not yet divorced at the time of her death. Sandra was furthermore involved in a custody battle with John Maloney for their three sons, ages 12, 9, and 8, a battle which she had effectively lost.

The daughter of an alcoholic police officer, Sandra began treatment with a local psychiatrist in 1992.  The psychiatrist diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder, and prescribed the highly addictive drug Klonopin (Benzodiazepine). 

Within a year, Sandra was routinely abusing her medication.  Typically, she would take all of the tablets prescribed, then request refills by claiming to have lost the medication, left it in her pants pocket and washed it, etc.  Sandra took all three of her children to a doctor 150 miles away for treatment of migraine headaches, then took the Fioricet (a habit-forming barbituate) prescribed for them herself. 

In 1994, for example, Sandra filled and consumed 30 tablet prescriptions of Fioricet intended for one of her children on May 3, May 10, May 16, May 23, May 31, June 8, June 14, June 16, June 21 and June 28. Another one of Sandra Maloney's sons was also prescribed thirty tablets on the following dates in 1994: May 16, May 23, June 5 and June 11.

By the next year, the Maloney children could receive Fioricet only by reporting to the local pharmacy and taking the medication in the presence of the pharmacist.  Sandra instructed them to not swallow, and once they were outside, made her children spit out the pills so that she could take them herself.

Sandra became involved in numerous confrontations with neighbors, including a fist fight with another woman at a youth athletic event.  As her husband and mother pressured her to stop her drug use, Sandra began drinking.  This was not, however, a substitute for prescription drugs, but in addition to them.  Her best friend shared the same addictions, and helped Sandra obtain the drugs and alcohol on which she had become dependent. 

Sandra received in-patient psychiatric and alcohol/drug abuse treatment in 1996 and again in 1997 following an auto accident caused by her drunk driving.  She refused, however, to participate in out-patient treatment.  When John left in May of 1997 and filed for divorce, Sandra took up smoking cigarettes, and sank further into addiction and depression. 

At the end of that year, the children were living with John and his new girlfriend, Tracy Hellenbrand, and Sandra could only have supervised visitation with them.  She was in another traffic accident, but didn't bother to show up in court and a warrant was issued.  Her weight fell to 97 lbs.  By the second week of February 1998, Sandra's mother said she expected Sandra to drink herself to death before the week was out.

Investigation

At the time of her autopsy, Sandra's blood alcohol content (BAC) was.25%, and her vitreous alcohol content (VAC) was .40%--meaning that a few hours before her death, her actual blood alcohol content was at least .40%. 

Five suicide notes were found in the kitchen wastebasket. 

In the basement of the home, an electrical extension cord was found tied to a conduit pipe.  Two VCRs were stacked on the coffee table beneath the cord.  The shorter end looked suspiciously like a noose that failed to hold.  Blood was found on the coffee table, on the carpet, in the laundry room and in the basement bathroom and shower.  Her shirt, with blood on the collar, was found in the clothes hamper in the laundry room.  A bloody fingerprint belonging to Sandra's best friend was found on the shower door.

The Green Bay Fire Department report noted: 

Several ashtrays were located throughout the building, many filled with cigarette butts. It was noted that several cigarettes had been left burning on tables, counter tops and on a telephone book and had burned down or self-extinguished. Two burned paper matches were identified on the floor of the living room next to the coffee table that was located to the East of the sofa…

Evidence in the dwelling, including several ashtrays containing cigarette butts, burned and discarded matches on the carpet in the living room and self-extinguished cigarettes on furniture throughout the home, indicate a careless pattern of cigarette smoking by the occupant.

Autopsy

The autopsy was performed by Dr. John Teggatz of the Milwaukee Medical Examiner's office.  His only discussion of Sandra's history in his autopsy report is a brief recitation of circumstances, that the victim was found deceased in a house that had suffered from a fire. There is no evidence that Sandra's social, medical, mental health, or smoking history were taken into account in the conclusions of his report. This is not a legitimate forensic practice.   After observing evidence of strangulation--Sandra's neck was too burned to differentiate between ligature and manual strangulation--Dr. Teggatz concluded that the cause of her death was "probably manual strangulation." 

This equivocal finding was reviewed by Dr. Gregory Schmunk, Brown County Medical Examiner, who embellished it with his own imaginative but unsubstantiated and unreliable theories.  Ignoring the physical evidence and failing to direct a complete forensic investigation, Dr. Schmunk delcared Sandra's death a homicide.  "There was no other explanation for the death disclosed by the autopsy, other than strangulation/suffocation at the hands of another,"  Dr. Schmunk claimed.

Adding Arson

The Brown County Arson Task Force report made the following findings after investigating the fire scene on February 11, 1998:

… Heat patterns on the West wall behind the sofa were most intense directly behind the North end of the South sofa section. The ceiling directly above this area exhibited the most intense direct heat exposure, with a section of drywall material having burned through and fallen.

Physical evidence, including the condition of the victim, indicates a fire that was initiated in the cushions of the South section of the two piece sectional sofa. The fire apparently smoldered in the cushions of the sofa, creating dense and toxic smoke and intense localized heat.

The fire continued to burn in the smoldering state until oxygen in the structure was depleted below combustion sustenance levels.

Evidence in the dwelling, including several ashtrays containing cigarette butts, burned and discarded matches on the carpet in the living room and self-extinguished cigarettes on furniture throughout the home, indicate a careless pattern of cigarette smoking by the occupant. The location of the fire's origin supports careless use of smoking materials as the probable ignition source of the fire.

The declaration of homicide, however, meant that the fire could not have been accidental.  Special Agent Gregory J. Eggum of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation, reviewed autopsy findings first, then looked at the same evidence.  He reported:

Accelerants were located on the couch, stuffed into the couch, and in front of the couch. These accelerants were matchbooks, paper, and cloth.

The area of origin also included the body which was on the couch at the time of the fire. S/A Eggum could not eliminate the possibility that the body was also set on fire.

Also on the floor between the davenport and the coffee table around the heavily charred floor there was an irregular burn pattern which appeared to be an accelerant pattern, either solid or liquid. It was also noted that when water was poured on the floor near this charred hole, it ran away from the hole towards the davenport.

The cause of this fire was determined to be deliberately set.

In fact, no evidence of liquid accelerants was found at the scene.  The items described by S/A Eggum as "accelerants" are "fuel," i.e., they can be burned.  S/A Eggum suggested that twisted tissue might have been used as a trailer, but the tissue wasn't burned, and therefore could not have been a trailer.  The fire was contained and quickly extinguished because the windows were closed.  There was insufficient oxygen available to keep the fire burning.

A Conviction without Evidence

This highly publicized case was portrayed as one of "greed, sex and obsession" and prosecuted on the basis of speculation and theory rather than fact.  Although the State of Wisconsin has a conviction, the circumstances of Sandra Maloney's death remain largely uninvestigated.

  • Sandra's best friend has never been questioned about the presence of her fingerprint in blood on the shower door in Sandra's home.

  • The electrical cord found hanging in the basement was never examined for blood, hair or any other trace/transfer evidence.

  • Blood found throughout the basement has not been subjected to analysis (simple typing or DNA).

  • Crime reconstruction theories have so far made no attempt to account for any of the evidence found in the basement.

  • No specific tests were conducted to identify metabolites associated with the many prescription drugs Sandra was known to take or to which she had access.

  • No medications were recognized, documented, collected and catalogued by crime scene personnel. 

  • No tests were conducted to identify stomach contents collected at autopsy.

  • No tests were conducted to determine the plausibility of the fire being caused by a lit cigarette dropped into the sofa cushions.

  • The investigators in this case asked, "Who did it?" and decided that the answer was "John Maloney."

    They still haven't asked--or answered--the most important question:  "What happened?"

    JohnMaloney.org

     
     

    Court TV decided not to cover trial afterall

    From the Associated Press
    February 08, 1999

    Green Bay -- Court TV has withdrawn its application to broadcast the murder trial of John Maloney because the courtroom rules set by the judge were unacceptable, a media coordinator says.

    The cable network had wanted to bring a camera into the courtroom and place microphones in addition to what was already there, said Scott Patrick, liaison between the media and the Brown County courts.

    But Circuit Judge Peter Naze told the network it could use the same setup available to the rest of the media, which Court TV officials said was not acceptable to them, Patrick said.

     
     

    Man's attorney says girlfriend killed wife

    By Peter Maller - Journal Sentinel

    February 9, 1999

    Green Bay -- The attorney for a former Green Bay police detective on trial in the murder of his wife said Monday the man's girlfriend -- and not his client -- committed the crime.
    Defense attorney Gerald Boyle made the accusation during opening statements Monday in the trial of John Maloney, who is accused of killing his estranged wife and setting her house on fire.

    The girlfriend, Tracy Hellenbrand, had motives for killing Sandra Maloney, who was demanding large sums of money from her husband in a divorce settlement, Boyle told jurors.

    Hellenbrand, a key prosecution witness, committed the murder because financial problems were damaging her relationship with John Maloney, Doyle contended.

    "So, Tracy Hellenbrand decided she was going to rid John Maloney of the problem," Boyle said.

    And on Feb. 10, the day investigators believe the murder occurred, Hellenbrand told her boyfriend she would be home late from work, which gave her ample time to strangle Sandra Maloney and torch the house to conceal her crime, Boyle said.

    Special prosecutor Joseph Paulus told jurors that John Maloney killed his wife using knowledge he acquired during 20 years working in the Green Bay Police Department.

    It would have been a perfect crime, but "before he left the house, he forgot to ventilate the house," Paulus said. Lacking sufficient oxygen, the fire burned itself out, leaving a woman that medical examiners said had been strangled to death before the fire was set, he said.

    John Maloney, 42, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide, mutilating a corpse and arson. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted, he could be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison plus 50 years.

    Police arrested John Maloney after he told his girlfriend he was in his wife's house the night she died, which was opposite what he had told investigators. The conversation took place in a Las Vegas hotel John Maloney meticulously checked for bugging devices while his girlfriend was away. The search was recorded by police stationed in an adjoining room, Paulus said.

    Sandra and John Maloney were high school sweethearts and had been married almost 20 years. But their relationship went into a tailspin in 1990, when Sandra Maloney became mentally ill. She also became addicted to prescription drugs that she mixed with vodka. As her condition worsened, so did the marriage.

    Maloney, wearing a blue blazer and tan slacks, made eye contact with the panel of 12 jurors and two alternates, as Paulus delivered a blistering opening statement.

    A suspect from the start, John Maloney "continually tried to feed potential suspects to police in an effort to get them off his back," Paulus said.

    John Maloney also "did everything to control the investigation," the prosecutor added. When Hellenbrand first suspected her boyfriend was the killer, he gave her false information about the investigation to throw her off track, Paulus said. John Maloney said he found out his estranged wife had a phone conversation with her mother at 8 p.m., the night police think she was killed, Paulus told jurors.

    Police believe she was killed shortly after talking with her mother at about 6 p.m. Evidence indicates that John Maloney killed his wife after his girlfriend went upstairs at 7 p.m. for a 45-minute nap, Paulus said.

    John Maloney was home by the time Hellenbrand was awake at 7:45 p.m. A clock in Sandra Maloney's living room "stopped at 7:53 p.m. because soot (was) in the mechanism" from a "quick, hot fire," Paulus said.

    John Maloney also told Hellenbrand that when Sandra Maloney's mother arrived Feb. 11 to visit her daughter, the door knob was hot, Paulus said. John Maloney wanted his girlfriend to think the fire occurred a day later than the fact, Paulus said.

    The person who killed Sandra Maloney was "not a stranger," Paulus said. "There was no sign of forced entry, no evidence of theft or robbery, no evidence that (she) was sexually assaulted."

    Sandra Maloney's killer left the house by a side door that was locked with a dead bolt when her mother arrived. The house also has a front door and sliding back door, but the sliding door was blocked from the inside with a stick and front door was tied with a shoelace to a storm door.

    The killer needed a key to lock the side door from the outside, Paulus said. Initially, John Maloney told investigators he possessed the key, then said he could not find it, Paulus said.

     
     

    'Smell of death' called a tip-off

    By Peter Maller - Journal Sentinel

    February 13, 1999

    Green Bay -- A former police detective on trial for allegedly killing his wife and setting fire to her house returned to his rented home the night of the slaying with "the smell of death" clinging to his body, his ex-girlfriend said in a videotape shown in court Friday.
    "You think I'm going to . . . smell that smell and not know (a person has) just killed someone?" Tracy Hellenbrand said in the video that police investigators in Las Vegas secretly recorded in July.

    "I will never forget that smell on your body," she told John Maloney in July during a heated argument at Lady Luck Casino Hotel. "That's a distinct smell."

    Jurors watched four hours of tapes showing Hellenbrand demanding that Maloney admit he killed his estranged wife and describe how it he did it. The blank-and-white videos are rife with near-hysterical shouting and a barrage of vulgar language. At one point, Maloney, then an arson investigator for the Green Bay Police Department, attacked Hellenbrand with his hand around her neck.

    In live testimony later, Hellenbrand, 28, said Maloney's skin the night of the killing smelled "like someone who had been working out in a musty basement. It just came right off his chest."

    A small, frail-looking woman, Hellenbrand testified that Maloney behaved strangely the night before his estranged wife's soot-covered body was discovered Feb. 11 of last year on her living room couch.

    His hands trembled so badly, he struggled trying to put a cigarette between his lips, said Hellenbrand, who became a police informant after meeting with investigators June 8. He appeared distracted and seemed to move "in slow motion" later that same night, she said.

    A 19-year Police Department veteran, Maloney has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide, arson and mutilating a corpse in the Feb. 10, 1998, death of Sandra Maloney, 40. He has pleaded not guilty to all three felonies.

    If convicted on all counts, he could be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison plus 50 years.

    Sandra and John Maloney were in the middle of bitter divorce when she died. She and John Maloney were high school sweethearts. But the marriage turned bad after Sandra Maloney began showing symptoms of mental illness in 1990 and started abusing prescription drugs and alcohol.

    Prosecutors allege Maloney torched the house to conceal his crime. The fire burned itself out and her body was recovered, enabling police to learn she had been strangled.

    Hellenbrand testified that Maloney, 42, strip-searched her a few days after Sandra Maloney's funeral, looking for a concealed listening device. The search was done after she told Maloney she wondered how the victim's mother reacted when she discovered Sandra Maloney's body on Feb. 11, 1998, Hellenbrand said. The question enraged Maloney, she said.

    She testified that as they were making love last summer, he confessed to killing his wife.

    Later in his kitchen, he confirmed again that he had committed the killing, Hellenbrand said. "He said, 'Yes,' and he looked away," she said.

     
     

    Woman failed lie test, says attorney

    By Peter Maller - Journal Sentinel

    February 16, 1999

    Green Bay -- The ex-girlfriend of a former Green Bay police detective on trial in the murder of his wife failed a polygraph test taken in connection with the crime, the defendant's attorney claimed in court Monday.

    After learning of the results, Tracy Hellenbrand, the state's key witness in the case against John Maloney, allegedly said, "That's because I'm a compulsive liar," according to defense attorney Gerald Boyle, who made his claim while jurors were outside the courtroom.

    Hellenbrand, a former criminal investigator for the Internal Revenue Service, also was found with a document describing how to defeat a polygraph test, Boyle said.

    Special prosecutor Joseph Paulus called Boyle's statements, "flat-out inaccurate" but would not elaborate.

    Brown County Circuit Judge Peter Naze ruled the results of the polygraph test could not be used as evidence because the state Supreme Court said the results can be unreliable.

    Monday marked the start of the second week in the trial of Maloney, who is charged with strangling Sandra Maloney and setting her body and home on fire last February. The two were in the middle of a bitter divorce.

    Maloney, 42, a former arson investigator for the Green Bay Police Department, is on trial for first-degree intentional homicide, arson and mutilating a corpse. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted, he could be sentenced to a maximum of life plus 50 years in prison.

    Boyle, who last week told jurors that it was Hellenbrand -- not Maloney -- who committed the murders, questioned the former girlfriend more than five hours Monday, often losing his temper when she seemed to sidestep questions.

    Naze twice reprimanded her for not answering Boyle's questions.

    Hellenbrand, 28, who turned informant for the police and then prompted defendant John Maloney to make incriminating statements, was the last witness for the prosecution before it rested its case Monday.

    She told Boyle she asked for immunity from prosecution because the police "kept telling me I was involved" in the killing.

    Several months before helping investigators videotape Maloney saying he was at the crime scene the day his wife died, Hellenbrand said, she told an investigator: "Help me get out of this mess; I got to get immunity."

    She did not receive immunity from prosecution for homicide in the case.

    Police alleged that Maloney killed his wife hours after learning she had demanded half the couple's assets in the divorce settlement.

    Investigators believe that the crime occurred between 7 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., a period when Hellenbrand told investigators she was napping and could not account for Maloney's whereabouts. She said she took another nap at 8 p.m.

    When Boyle said she never mentioned the naps in a written statement given to detectives, Hellenbrand said she reported the 7 p.m. nap to Green Bay police Detective Kenneth Brodhagen, but he forgot to include it in a document she signed.

    Boyle complained that police checked on John Maloney's whereabouts at the time of the killing, but no one investigated Hellenbrand's alibi.

    Boyle on Monday asked Hellenbrand why she told Maloney that she was worried investigators may find her earrings at the crime scene. He also asked her to explain why she told Maloney she was afraid police might have smelled her perfume at the scene.

    She replied that it was because she thought Maloney might have planted the earrings and spread the perfume around the scene to make her look guilty.

     
     

    Murder trial of former detective goes to jury today

    By Peter Maller - Journal Sentinel

    February 17, 1999

    Green Bay -- The former police detective charged with first-degree murder and arson "snuffed out his wife as if she were a rag doll and burned her body to hide his crime," a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.

    John Maloney never intended to kill his estranged wife, Sandra Maloney, but there was no turning back after he "cut her head open" with a blow from a blunt object, special prosecutor Joseph Paulus said in closing arguments after the eight-day trial.

    But John Maloney's attorney said it was the detective's ex-girlfriend who committed the crime.

    Tracy Hellenbrand phoned John Maloney to say she would be home late from work, then went to Sandra Maloney's house to kill her, defense attorney Gerald Boyle said.

    Closing arguments were made Tuesday evening in the trial of Maloney, a former Green Bay arson detective who is charged with strangling Sandra Maloney and setting her body and home on fire last February. The two were in the middle of a bitter divorce.

    The Brown County jury will begin deliberating today. Paulus said John Maloney was probably arguing with Sandra Maloney on Feb. 10, 1998, when he hit her and then strangled her because he feared losing his job if anybody discovered that he had dealt her such a brutal blow.

    Jurors need only watch videotapes that verify John Maloney killed his wife, Paulus said.

    The July 1998 videos, made at Lady Luck Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, contain more than six hours of dialogue between Hellenbrand and John Maloney, including parts in which Maloney allegedly incriminates himself, Paulus said.

    Paulus said John Maloney committed the crimes because he wanted to get the divorce over as soon as possible. It usually takes 120 days to get a divorce in Wisconsin, but in this case the proceedings "dragged on for eight months" while John Maloney was trying to establish a relationship with his new girlfriend.

    He "snapped" and killed Sandra Maloney, his wife of 19 years, after fearing Hellenbrand would leave him because she was fed up with his divorce problems.

    But Boyle maintained that it was Hellenbrand, who cooperated with police in the murder investigation, who committed the crime.

    If Hellenbrand believed that John Maloney murdered his wife, why did she continue to have a sexual relationship with him for 2 1/2 months after she came to that conclusion, Boyle asked.

    Boyle also said Hellenbrand didn't begin cooperating with police until after she received immunity from prosecution for problems that occurred while she worked at the Internal Revenue Service. And, Boyle said, the fire that was meant to burn down Sandra Maloney's house was set by an amateur, not a person trained as an arson investigator.

    In testimony Tuesday, Randy Winkler, a retired Green Bay police detective and arson investigator, said the person who set the fire lacked knowledge to set a fire to destroy the house.

    "The fact of the matter is, this arsonist was dumb," Boyle said.

     
     

    Jury finds ex-detective guilty of killing his wife

    By Peter Maller and Meg Jones - Journal Sentinel

    February 18, 1999

    Green Bay -- A jury found a former police detective guilty Wednesday night in the murder of his estranged wife, who was found strangled and burned in her Green Bay home a year ago.

    Jurors deliberated almost 12 hours before deciding that John Maloney, 42, was guilty of first-degree intentional homicide, arson and mutilating a corpse in the death of his wife, Sandra Maloney, 40.

    The Maloneys' three sons sobbed as the verdict was read, prompting Judge Peter Naze to order them to leave the court.

    John Maloney faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. Naze said sentencing would be in six to eight weeks, and he revoked Maloney's bail and ordered him held in the Brown County Jail until then.

    The jury ultimately was not swayed by defense attorney Gerald Boyle's assertion that John Maloney's ex-girlfriend, the state's star witness, killed Sandra Maloney.

    Sandra Maloney's burned body was found Feb. 11, 1998, the day a hearing had been scheduled for the couple's divorce. She had been strangled; her body was found on a burned couch in the couple's home.

    The couple, who were married 19 years and had three young sons, filed for divorce in June 1997.

    John Maloney, an 18-year veteran of the Green Bay Police Department, had been a detective and arson investigator for 2 1/2 years. He was arrested in July in Las Vegas after his then-girlfriend, Tracy Hellenbrand, cooperated with police and allowed her motel room to be bugged.

    Boyle argued that Hellenbrand, who was living with John Maloney in February 1998, had just as much motive as his client did to kill Sandra Maloney. Boyle accused Hellenbrand, 28, an investigator for the Internal Revenue Service, of using harassment and sex to get a false confession out of Maloney in Las Vegas.

    Videos made in July 1998 at the Lady Luck Hotel Casino in Las Vegas contain more than six hours of dialogue between Hellenbrand and John Maloney, including parts in which Maloney incriminates himself. Jurors watched excerpts of the videos.

    When the verdict was read, one of the jurors was crying, and the others on the jury of seven women and five men were solemn-faced.

    After the verdict, John Maloney was escorted from court by sheriff's deputies. Before leaving, he turned and mouthed "goodbye" to relatives.

    Outside the courtroom after that, Boyle's daughter and associate, Bridget Boyle, said the verdict was "like a death sentence" for her client, and that the defense was "shocked" by it. She said they would appeal.

    Sandra Maloney's brother, Brad Cator, told reporters the verdict was "a lose-lose situation for both families."

    "I hope the Maloney family knows we have no hard feelings for them, and we hope they feel the same for us," Cator said. "We have to pull together as a family for the sake of" the Maloneys' sons, who are 14, 10 and 9.

    Maloney's relatives declined to discuss the verdict with the news media.

    Special prosecutor Joseph Paulus said the case was "an ugly, ugly case, an ugly situation, and the reading of the verdict was ugly." Paulus said it was difficult to watch Maloney's children in court hearing the verdict.

    "Their father, I don't understand for the life of me why he had those boys in court."

    Sandra Maloney's mother, Lola Cator, said the verdict "was from God." She said she hadn't been hoping for any particular verdict and was prepared to accept the jury's decision whatever it was.

    "I'm just praying it goes all right for all of us," she said.

     
     

    Some question guilty verdict

    By Peter Maller - Journal Sentinel

    February 19, 1999

    Green Bay -- Just as a Brown County jury struggled for nearly 12 hours before deciding that a former arson detective was guilty of murdering his estranged wife, Green Bay residents struggled Thursday over whether the panel had made the right decision.

    Key evidence that prosecutors used against John Maloney, a 19-year veteran of the Green Bay Police Department, seemed too ambiguous for jurors to reach such a conclusion, according to some residents in a community that voraciously gobbled up news accounts of the eight-day trial.

    Maloney was found guilty Wednesday night in the murder of Sandra Maloney, who was found strangled and burned in her Green Bay home on Feb. 11, 1998.

    Ron Kempen, a local haircutter, said that a videotape that jurors were shown of Maloney telling his girlfriend he committed the crime was open to many interpretations.

    "He never really did confess to her," Kempen said. "The way he described the murder was totally different from the way it happened."

    Gerald Boyle, Maloney's attorney, told the jury at the start of the trial that his client's former girlfriend, Tracy Hellen brand, had the motive and the opportunity to kill Sandra Maloney.

    John and Sandra Maloney, high school sweethearts who had been married 19 years, were in the midst of a bitter divorce. Boyle claimed Hellenbrand killed Sandra Maloney because Hellenbrand feared John Maloney was going to be saddled with a large divorce settlement.

    But others disagreed.

    Between bites of taco chips at a fast-food restaurant, Cheryl Kastor said, "Justice was served."

    Kastor, a homemaker, said she has no doubt that the right person was convicted and that he acted alone.

    "I feel sorry for the kids," she said, referring to John and Sandra Maloney's three sons, ages 10, 11 and 14. The boys were being cared for by their father before his bail was revoked and he was taken into custody Wednesday night.

    The sons sobbed as the verdict was read, prompting Judge Peter Naze to order them to leave the court.

    One of the jurors also was crying as the verdict was read about 8 p.m. Wednesday, while others on the jury of seven women and five men were solemn-faced.

    John Maloney was escorted from court by sheriff's deputies. Before leaving, he turned and mouthed "goodbye" to relatives. Outside the courtroom after that, Boyle's daughter and associate, Bridget Boyle, said the verdict was "like a death sentence" for her client, and that the defense was "shocked" by it. She said they would appeal.

    John Maloney faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment when he is sentenced in six to eight weeks.

    After the verdict was handed down, Sandra Maloney's brother, Brad Cator, told reporters the verdict was "a lose-lose situation for both families."

    "I hope the Maloney family knows we have no hard feelings for them, and we hope they feel the same for us," Cator said. "We have to pull together as a family for the sake of" the three sons.

    John Maloney's relatives declined to discuss the verdict with the media.

    Special prosecutor Joseph Paulus said the case was "an ugly, ugly case, an ugly situation, and the reading of the verdict was ugly." Paulus said it was difficult to watch Maloney's children in court hearing the verdict.

    "Their father, I don't understand for the life of me why he had those boys in court," Paulus said.

    Sandra Maloney's mother, Lola Cator, said the verdict "was from God." She said she hadn't been hoping for any particular verdict and was prepared to accept the jury's decision whatever it was.

    "I'm just praying it goes all right for all of us," she said.

     
     

    Custody battle brewing in killing

    By Peter Maller - Journal Sentinel

    February 23, 1999

    A sister of a former Green Bay police detective who killed his wife is in a legal dispute with a sister of the victim over guardianship of the couple's three young sons, according to court documents released Monday.

    Wendy Conard of Mahtomedi, Minn., whose sister's burned body was found Feb. 11, 1998, and Virginia Maloney, whose brother, John Maloney, was convicted Thursday, each petitioned to become guardian of the boys, ages 14, 11 and 10.

    The boys, who lived with their father at Virginia Maloney's home in Green Bay while he awaited trial, have remained there after he was taken into custody after the jury's verdict.

    Conard's attorney, John Halloran Heide, said he does not expect a nasty court battle because they are interested in the children's best welfare and are seeking advice from professionals.

    Wendy Conard and her husband, Alan, are acting cautiously "because I don't think they want the children's lives disrupted needlessly. They lost their mom and they lost their dad," he said. "We hope the other side feels the same way."

    Contacted at home, Virginia Maloney said she did not want to discuss the matter.

    "Wendy and Al are extremely balanced in how they look at this," Heide said. "A knee-jerk reaction after the verdict would have been, 'These boys need to be yanked from Virginia Maloney.' But Wendy and Al didn't see it that way, which I think is very, very impressive."

    The petitions have been pending before Brown County Circuit Judge Richard Greenwood since a brief hearing Oct. 22. Heide asked Greenwood on Friday to schedule a hearing now that the trial is over.

    John Maloney faces a mandatory life sentence for killing his wife. He also could be sentenced to up to 50 years in prison for disfiguring his wife's corpse and setting fire to her house.

    The couple was in the midst of a bitter divorce. Sandra Maloney's body was found the day they were to appear at a hearing in connection with a custody dispute involving the children.

    Maloney was arrested in July after Las Vegas police videotaped him telling his girlfriend he was at the crime scene at the time police think the killing occurred.

     
     

    Ex-officer gets life for wife's murder

    Maloney won't be eligible for parole for 25 years in Green Bay arson case

    By Peter Maller - Journal Sentinel

    April 24, 1999

    Green Bay -- The former police arson detective who killed his wife and tried to conceal the crime by burning her body and setting fire to their house was sentenced Friday to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 25 years.

    John Maloney, a 19-year veteran of the Green Bay Police Department, was convicted in February of murdering Sandra Maloney on Feb. 11, 1998, the same day a final hearing had been scheduled on the couple's divorce.

    Jurors deliberated about 11 1/2 hours before finding Maloney guilty of first-degree intentional homicide, arson and mutilating a corpse in the death of his high school sweetheart and wife of almost 20 years.

    But on Friday, as he did in the trial, Maloney insisted he was innocent.

    "I did not commit this crime. I did not kill Sandy," Maloney, 42, told the court in a calm, steady voice, just moments before the judge handed down the sentence. "I believe I was set up -- manipulated -- to make it appear that I did commit this crime."

    Maloney's tearful relatives whispered to him, "We love you, John; we love you," as three sheriff's deputies escorted him from court after the hearing.

    Handcuffed and wearing an orange jail suit, Maloney nodded solemnly to his supporters.

    Brown County Judge Peter J. Naze handed down the mandatory life sentence, saying that "one of the ironies of this case is that first the (Maloney's three) sons lost their mother, and now they will lose their father."

    Naze set Maloney's parole eligibility date for Feb. 10, 2024, when Maloney will be 67.

    In addition to sentencing Maloney for first-degree intentional homicide, Naze sentenced him to 40 years for arson and 10 years for mutilating a corpse.

    Maloney's mother-in-law said she had mixed emotions about the way the case ended.

    "Something inside me still loves" John Maloney, said Lola Cator, of Madison.

    "I hate what he did. But how do you get love out of your heart that fast?"

    Gerald Boyle, John Maloney's attorney, said he would appeal the case immediately. Boyle had argued throughout Maloney's trial in February that Tracy Hellenbrand, Maloney's girlfriend, was the killer.

    "There is no doubt in my mind that he did not commit this crime," Boyle told Naze.

    "I will go to my grave believing I am correct in my appraisal."

    Special prosecutor Joseph Paulis told reporters outside court that Naze's sentence was too lenient because it makes him eligible for parole in 25 years. Paulis had wanted Maloney sentenced for life without any chance of parole.

    "There is no place in society for John Maloney," Paulis said. "He is a brutal killer, a cold-blooded killer."

    John and Sandra Maloney were in the midst of a bitter divorce when she was killed. Sandra Maloney had been struggling with a mental illness for several years. She wanted John Maloney to give her $1,400 a month because her emotional problems kept her from holding a job.

    Prosecutors said Maloney killed his wife because he didn't want to give up the money.

    He was arrested in Las Vegas after he told Hellenbrand he was at the crime scene. Hellenbrand was cooperating with police, and investigators recorded the couple's conversation at Lady Luck Hotel and Casino.