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Woman gets 60 years in 1988 killing of abducted Indiana mom

August 2, 2019

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — A woman convicted in the 1988 beating death of a pregnant Indiana mother was sentenced Friday to 60 years in prison by a judge who called the killing “the worst of the worst kind of murder.”

A jury convicted Barbara Brewster, 56, of murder in Miriam Rice’s slaying after two of her own children testified against her during the June trial.

Rice, 28, was four months pregnant and the mother of a 3-year-old son when she was abducted while walking her dog in June 1988. She was found dead from multiple skull fractures about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from her South Bend home.

According to testimony from Rice’s children, their mother’s boyfriend, George Kearney, abducted Rice then told Brewster to either kill the woman or he would kill all of them. Rice’s slaying went unsolved for three decades, until after Kearney agreed to speak with investigators in March 2016. Kearney died of cancer at age 77 this year, days after he entered a guilty plea.

During Friday’s hearing, Brewster maintained her innocence, but St. Joseph County Judge John Marnocha replied that the evidence was against her, the South Bend Tribune reported .

“This is a case that shakes the core of any decent, moral person,” Marnocha said. “This is the worst of the worst kind of murder.”

When Kearney went to police in 2016, he told them he had been getting letters from Brewster’s daughter about his involvement in Rice’s death while serving prison time for an unrelated crime. He told officers that in order to “clear his name,” he came forward to claim that it was Brewster who killed Rice.

That led investigators to Brewster’s children. Her son, Robert South, testified that he was in a van with Brewster and Kearney after the couple left a makeshift campsite to get food. Brewster and Kearney were fighting when they saw Rice walking her dog, he said.

South, who was 6 at the time, testified he saw Kearney drag Rice into the van and tell Brewster to kill the woman. He said his mother then beat Rice in the head with tools that were in the van. South said he had been traumatized by the killing his entire life but never told anyone because Kearney threatened to kill him.

Brewster’s daughter, Paula Brooks, was 7 at the time of the killing. She testified that she was at the campsite when she heard screams and a woman begging for her life nearby. She said Kearney, Brewster and South later returned to the campsite covered in blood, and the next day her mother made her clean blood out of the van.

Rice’s family thanked prosecutors and investigators Friday.

“No verdict will reverse these loses and a part of our lives remains gone forever,” the family said in a statement.

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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