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Kalhauser makes deal for 20-year sentence

PATTY MACHELOR Citizen Staff Writer

The unresolved disappearance of a Tucson woman four years ago has ended in a plea agreement of 20 years in prison for the man accused of her murder.

”We’re just so happy that it’s over and we don’t have to talk about this anymore,” Ardythe van Reeth, the victim’s mother, said tearfully yesterday.

John Joseph Kalhauser, 44, yesterday pleaded no contest to second-degree murder, which means he does not admit to killing his estranged wife, Diane van Reeth, in 1995.

Kalhauser instead acknowledged that he might be found guilty if the case went to trial.

”He’s just saying what any rational person going to trial in Pima County might say and that is, ‘I might get convicted,’ ” said Kalhauser’s attorney, Greg Kuykendall.

Van Reeth, 35, disappeared Aug. 10, 1995, after leaving her Winterhaven home for work at Tucson Electric Power Co.

At the time, she and Kalhauser were in the midst of a divorce and she had asked him to move out of the home. Although van Reeth’s body has never been found, she is presumed to be dead.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Kenneth Peasley said that while no-contest pleas are not popular among prosecutors, ”obviously this guy is standing up and saying that we have sufficient evidence to convict him at trial.”

”Somebody wouldn’t do this without a compelling reason.”

Kalhauser will be sentenced Thursday.

Kalhauser must serve full 20 years

PATTY MACHELOR Citizen Staff Writer

John Joseph Kalhauser will be sentenced Thursday to 20 years for killing his wife – and for Arizona, 20 years means 20 years.

The sentence will run concurrently with a 26-year sentence he’s serving in Massachusetts for attempted murder in another case.

But if Kalhauser is given an early release for the Massachusetts crime, he would still be required to serve all of his Arizona sentence, under the plea agreement reached yesterday.

”There’s no magic they can do to get out early on ours,” said Deputy Pima County Attorney Kenneth Peasley.

Kalhauser, 44, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in the 1995 death of his estranged wife, Diane van Reeth.

Her body was never found, but investigators believe she was murdered.

Kalhauser will be sentenced by Superior Court Judge Richard Nichols.

In Massachusetts, Kalhauser was convicted in 1996 of shooting Michael Renk three times in the neck in 1979, reportedly because Renk was dating Kalhauser’s ex-girlfriend.

The trial was delayed after Kalhauser posted a $1,200 bond in 1980 and fled New England.

He arrived in Arizona, where he eventually married Van Reeth under the alias Donald Stecchi. Charges of fraud against Kalhauser have been dropped as part of the plea.

Peasley said while he is satisfied with the outcome, what Van Reeth’s family thinks is ”what’s important.”

”He’s got 20 years he has to do, and the victim’s family very much wanted me to do this,” he said.

Kalhauser was asked to disclose where van Reeth’s body is.

”(But) he’s never admitted his guilt, so consequently he’s never admitted knowing about any body, or if there is a body,” Kuykendall said.

Kalhauser reportedly told a fellow jail inmate that he killed Van Reeth by stabbing and beating her.

Peasley said during a previous hearing that inmate Eugene C. Ramirez told authorities Kalhauser also spoke of burying Van Reeth ”somewhere on Tucson’s North Side.”

As part of the plea agreement, Kalhauser cannot challenge a court order forbidding him from having contact with the couple’s two sons.

He also agreed to give up any rights he may have to his wife’s estate.

The estate, which has been in probate since she disappeared, will now go to her children.

The impending murder trial hung heavily on the victim’s family, now living out of state.

Jury selection was to have started Thursday.

”We’re very happy that life is going to start over for us without this constant worry,” said Ardythe van Reeth, the victim’s mother.

Her grandsons are doing well, she said, adding, ”One of the things that I feel so sad about is that she will never have a chance to see her children grow. She loved them very much.”

Patty Machelor’s e-mail: pmachelo@tucsoncitizen.com

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