Susan May of Augusta was sentenced to 109 months, with 36 months probation, in the murder of her brother. More details to follow.
Susan May, who was charged with the reckless murder of her brother, Richard Hrejsa, on or about Sept. 18, 2013, was sentenced to 109 months in prison following two days of testimony during her sentencing.
Detective Bobby Albert from the Butler County Sheriff's Office was the first witness to take the stand.
"I was the lead investigator on the case," he explained. "In regards to Carolyn Desmond, I'd been contacted the evening prior to speaking with her. She wanted to report a possible homicide. I then contacted her by phone."
Albert went on to explain Desmond spoke of the rocky and violent relationship between the siblings during their phone interview. She mentioned various threats the victim had made toward Susan May, her daughter and even her grandchild before Hrejsa's death. She continued to inform the detective of May's intent to evict Hrejsa from the home with documentation she had found online.
"I don't know that she actually took the steps to do so," Albert said.
Assistant District Attorney Amber Norris then took a moment to question Albert.
"In your conversation with Mrs. Desmond, what other information did she provide to you?" asked Norris.
"She said it would be easier just to kill him (Hrejsa),” said Albert.
The second witness was John Sharp, a detective with the Butler County Sheriff's Office.
"I spoke with Mrs. Desmond at her residence on Oct. 14, 2013," said Sharp. "I met her face to face in order to gain the opportunity to document it with a recording device. She said that he threatened to rape and kill Mrs. May, her daughter, Nicole, and to harm Mrs. May's grandson, a 3-year-old boy. She said it was a difficult relationship and they argued. She also labeled the victim as an alcoholic and abusive. She recalled seeing Mrs. May with a black eye and the police were called on some occasion. She said Mrs. May was frustrated with Mr. Hrejsa wasn't helping out or paying his share of the living expenses. She had attempted some form of eviction and he tore up the paper and refused to leave."
"This was all told to her by Mrs. May," said Norris. "She said that Mrs. May was frustrated with the process?"
"She made a comment that she (May) said it would be easier to just kill him," said Sharp.
Susan's daughter, Nicole May, was then called to the stand to testify. May’s attorney, James Watts, began to question her on how long Hrejsa was living at the residence.
"He was my uncle," Nicole began. "He moved to the house in either 2001 or 2002 and he lived there until the end."
Watts then questioned whether the victim had any other family in the area.
"He had a couple of ex wives that lived wherever, but he was always with us," she said. "Anyone he would venture off with would eventually kick him out because he would drink too much or lose his job. It never lasted very long."
Watts questioned Nicole as to whether she was ever a witness to his violent behavior.
"When he was sober, it could go two ways," she explained. "He could either be normal and happy or there were some times he would just throw things or smash things or start talking back to an animal or yelling at something in his room. He would just get mad about nothing and then when you asked him about it, you'd get rude comments. When he was not sober, it was best to avoid contact with him at all costs."
Watts then asked if Nicole had ever seen evidence of physical violence toward Susan.
"She would have bruises on her arms, lets, stomach, ribs and face," Nicole began. "I think there was even a time or two she had chunks of hair missing. She's disabled so after a bad day, there would be a day or night where she would just stay in bed."
Watts asked Nicole to recount an incident which occurred in 2006.
"I was around 15 or 16 when it happened," she said. "My boyfriend had just gotten to the house. We were inside and my mom was telling Rick to get out of the house. At the time, he was living in the underground house. He shoved her down in the front yard and ripped her chains off. My boyfriend and I came running to the front. We just kind of stopped for a minute when we got there and my mom had gotten up. He was all just in her face and she was trying to shove him off."
Watts asked if the incident had injured Susan.
"She has a couple of disabilities," Nicole explained. "Any time she falls or hits something hard, it affects her back, knees and her neck. She was in a car accident that left permanent damage to her body."
Watts went on to ask Nicole to recount another incident which happened in 2008.
"This was April in 2008," she began. "My mother and I were in the kitchen and we were talking about something. We started arguing about nothing important and my mother got mad at me and she went to shove me. I was being lippy, so I understand why she would do that. I put my hands out and it blocked her and she fell on her butt and Rick was watching off the sidelines. He said 'You're not going to push my sister' and he came around the counter and put me in a headlock. I couldn't move my arms because of how he had me so I tried to swing myself between the sink and over to try to get loose."
During the attack, fellow teenager Michael Moore was on the porch speaking to his father on the phone. He entered the kitchen upon hearing the noise.
"Michael heard what was going on and he tried to get my uncle off me," she went on. "I just panicked and there was a glass bowl on the stove. I hit him in the head with the bowl to get him off and it didn't really do anything. I instantly freaked out. I didn't expect it to break. My fingers were cut and bleeding and his ear was cut from the glass."
She went on to explain in order to clean up the blood and glass and restore order, she and Hrejsa retreated to the bathroom, where Hrejsa then swung at Susan.
"He swung on my mom and hit her in the face," said Nicole. "She was just trying to clean some of the blood off his face."
Watts moved on to the event that ultimately ended Hrejsa's life.
"That day, I worked a day shift until about 5 p.m.," began Nicole. "My mom called me and asked if I could pick up her prescriptions. She said that Rick was already drunk and he had swung on her that day. She didn't really drive often because she's going blind. He was drinking, so she locked herself up in her room and was leaving him alone. I got there and he was sitting on the back porch on his knees talking to some cats. I don't know what he was saying. He had been drinking. My mother and I had no idea where he was always able to find money for beer, but he walked from my mother's house to the liquor store, which is about three miles each way. We found out later the money was from my mother's purse. I finally said 'I'm done, I'm going to go give him a piece of my mind. I'm going to go tell him he's not going to hit you anymore. I'm tired of being quiet about this. I'll kick him out.' Then I opened the back door and said 'We're going to have a conversation.'"
In response to her statement, Hrejsa told her to go back into the house.
"I told him 'You're not going to talk to me that way,'" she continued. "Then I said 'you live here for free, you don't pay for electric, gas, food, or even toilet paper. I got you a job so you would have something to do and so that you could feel better about yourself and to help my mom’.”
She went on to describe his overall demeanor during the conversation.
"He always sat on his knees, but sideways just a little bit," she explained. "He would rock back and forth a lot when he'd sit. When he's being violent or mean, he wouldn't look you in the eye. He would yell rude comments at the ground. Then, I heard him say 'you're gonna get what's coming to you.' I heard those types of things all the time."
She continued to speak about what happened next.
"He was drunk and a lot of what he would say was a slur,” Nicole explained. “He would always start saying something and then mumble off something else. I was talking to him and I heard my mom say something like 'just go and leave him alone.' I was telling him my mom had papers to kick him out and that if she's not going to do it then I would. At that point he started getting mad and balling his fists. He clenched them a lot. He would always hit the ground a lot when he would get mad. He did that a little bit. Before I knew it, I heard a gunshot go off. Of course, my first reaction was 'what was that?' The next thing I know, I look back at him and he was trying to get to his feet or come at me and my mom is right there and he is shot in the back of the head. I stood there for a minute because it was shocking and I remember thinking 'is this really happening right now? It looks like a movie.' There was a lot of blood. That was obviously something I had never seen before."
After the shooting, Nicole confronted her mother.
"I turned to her and I said 'why did you do that? You could have just let him come at me. I could have had bruises and I could have pressed charges.' She said 'He's not going to put his hands on you again.'"
Susan then told Nicole she needed to go home and she had seen too much.
Norris was next to question Nicole.
"Things were never supposed to happen this way," she said. "I’ve had a lot of people ask 'why did your mother do the things she did why didn’t you just call the cops right away?' Obviously we were scared but we were scared they were going to separate us. My mother isn’t a harmful person. All she ever did was take care of her cats and take care of people who didn’t have a home. She would give you what she had if you needed it. She tried to help him (Hrejsa) and all he ever did was take all her money, steal, lie and beat her. I understand things were done that were wrong, but I really just want my mom back. I want Silas (the grandson) to know his grandma. I wish she could come home."
Judge Jan Satterfield expressed concern when it was noted Susan was the primary caretaker of her 3-year-old grandson while Nicole was at work.
"Was he (Nicole's son) there the day of the shooting?" asked Satterfield.
"No, he was with his father when the shooting took place," answered Nicole.
"I do have some reservations in the fact that you continued to take your son where you uncle was residing being that he was regularly violent," said Satterfield.
Next, Michael Moore, the ex boyfriend of Nicole who was present during one of the incidences, testified about his brief stay with the family.
"I resided with all three of the individuals for a small period of time," said Moore. "At some points Rick was a good guy, but there was kind of an on and off switch to his behavior. I saw him verbally abuse them but physically only once."
Moore then recounted the earlier story of the incident in the kitchen with Hrejsa, but told the court he did not see Hrejsa hit Susan in the face.
Carolyn Desmond, a long-time family friend, took the stand to testify on Hrejsa's violent nature.
"Susan is outspoken, like myself, but she was never violent," began Desmond. "Rick has kind of been the picture of dependency right from the start after their mother died when she moved here from Chicago. He always needed something. As she related to me, Rick made threats. She told me in May when I took her eviction notices to get him out of there legally. She told me that he had been telling her he was going to kill her. She said he had threatened all of them prior to the event. That’s when she stated his problem was he was drunk all the time and she was afraid that if she gave him the letter of eviction, he would just beat her up again.
"This whole thing is such a parody of justice," she continued. "The victim is on trial here. It’s a travesty. It’s horrible. I can’t believe it. There's a paper trail on this thing clear back to 2008 and I'm here to support Susan. The community is not safer with her locked up. I think the mind snaps after a while. She lost her husband and then her house right behind that. I really don’t know how she lasted as long as she did before she snapped. She perceived him as the ultimate threat to her child. Maybe Sue thought she heard it. Maybe he did. Neither she nor I go out looking for problems, but if she or I perceive someone is encroaching on our space, then she will speak. Sometimes it is needed to draw the line."
Norris asked Desmond to elaborate on the phone call by Susan May requesting her help to dispose of the deceased.
"I told her that was primarily her worst mistake," explained Desmond. "I told her I would go over and help her and I felt the best thing for her and Nicole was to bring it to light. She told me when she called me it had been about a month to six weeks after the shooting. I never went over there to help."
Norris asked about a statement Desmond made to the police during the initial investigation. The statement described by Desmond was Sue had said it would be easier to just kill Hrejsa than to try to evict him.
"I don’t ever remember making that statement,"she said. “If I stated it, then that is another thing. I took an oath, but I don’t remember saying it. If my word arrangement was wrong or if I put too few words, I can't tell you. I can tell you if anyone were trying to hurt my child, I would definitely use all measures to kill them, but I can’t speak for her, I can only speak for myself."
Court services officer Sarah Wheeler also testified to the character of Hrejsa.
"He was a probationer of mine for a disorderly conduct case," she explained. "The brief time I had him on probation, he kept in regular contact with me. The last time I heard from him was on Sept. 17, 2013 at 1:27 p.m. He said he had flat tires on their vehicle and there was no insurance and he wanted to reschedule his appointment. I rescheduled his appointment for Sept. 25, 2013 at 3 p.m. He did not make that appointment and approximately 20 days later I learned why he had not made it. We did discuss him having financial problems. He did not have money to cover any fees or the blood and alcohol evaluation. He told me his sister would take his money from him as soon as he earned it."
Albert took the stand again to testify the police had been called eight times since 2008 to the home.
Susan's ex-boyfriend, Benjamin Gromely, testified about a previous incident occurring in May of 2001.
"I lived with her for about five years," explained Gromley. "I was shot by Susan May. I'm still breathing today; her brother's not. She shot me with a gun I bought her for her birthday. That's pretty ironic, isn't it?"
He went on to explain the incident.
"She was down at the bar in Augusta," he began. "I had to be to work in Wichita pretty early and told her I wasn't going to go to the bar. She came back home and was kicking doors in and she was drunk. I ran out the back door and as I went to turn around, I had my hand on the door, she shot me. I was in bed when she got home. I was in my underwear and I ran out the back door."
Deputy Patrick McMurphy, one of the officers to respond to the scene in 2001, was called to testify about a case from 2007 involving Susan.
"When I arrived on the scene, I met with white female I identified as Susan May," said McMurphy. "She states she heard her car alarm sound, she went to investigate that and saw what she believed was a white male with brown hair and she yelled out the window. Then she stated she went and got a .22 semi-automatic hand gun and went to the back door and fired a round off, then walked outside and heard the possible suspect running from the residence. I searched the area around the vehicle and I attempted to get the car alarm to go off myself. I didn't find anything.”
The state seemed ready for a departure motion when Watts objected stating he needed time to review reports and call witnesses to rebut the claims.
When the court reconvened, Watts called Nicole to the stand to present another side to Gromley's story.
"That account was slightly skewed," explained Nicole. "That evening, we went to dinner. My mother and Ben dropped me off at home so they could go back out. I had school the next day. They came home later and were arguing. I heard something being said about his mother and he said 'at least I have one’," which upset my mother because my grandmother is deceased. She slapped him. I heard more fighting and arguing and when I heard something break, I went into her bedroom. There was broken glass. Food was strewn around and objects were out of place. I noticed the gun was out, which usually doesn't happen. I could tell he had been hitting her. My mom was on her back on the bed and he was holding her down. His hands were on her wrists. My mom told me to go back to my room, so I did."
After she returned to her bedroom, the fighting escalated.
"I heard them go into the kitchen," she said. "I was 11 years old and I was watching them through a window in my bedroom door. He had her up against the wall and she was trying to push him off. She was knocked down to the floor. The next thing I knew, I heard a gunshot. I heard him say 'ow' and I figured out she had hit him. I stayed in my room and I didn't know what do do, but then my mom called to me and told me to call 911. When it didn't go through, she took the phone and said Rick was on his way. She ended up calling 9-1-1.
"I was 11 years old and I was pretty freaked out with what had happened," Nicole explained. I didn't know what was going on. I was sitting in the back of a cop car with a helicopter overhead and all these police cars around. I was a little kid."
Sheriff Kelly Herzet was also present at the scene of the shooting in 2001.
"My role the morning I arrived on the scene was to interview Nicole May, which I did and then it was to photograph the scene," explained Herzet. "Two days after the incident, Detective Randy Coffman and myself interviewed Gromley. He answered the questions generically that she had gotten the gun out. We asked him if he had beaten up May and he denied that. He did admit he had grabbed her at one point to restrain her to keep her from leaving. He was downplaying what had happened that night."
When questioned about whether the story Gromley gave during testimony was consistent with the evidence found at the scene, Herzet concluded it was not.
"Physical evidence showed he was standing in the kitchen near the sink," he said. "I couldn't say he was headed toward the back door out of the evidence."
With all the evidence presented to the court, Watts made the first departure motion.
"I don't know if I've ever had a departure motion, in the 15 years I've been involved with the courts, where the sentencing was quite like this one," he began. "We request to depart from the presumptive sentence. She has only one item on her criminal history–a DUI which is over a decade old. She has no felony convictions. At the time of the incident she was going to the aid of a family member who she believed was threatened by Richard Hrejsa. It went tragically wrong. Mrs. May is in no way a threat to the community. As I argue, the state's position is, as I understand, it, a threat to the community because she had to defend herself in a domestic violence case 13 years ago. As we have heard here, Mr. Gromley's fantasy was not even remotely bound to the physical evidence at the scene."
Watts spoke in regard to the statement by Mrs. Desmond about Susan killing her brother.
"The state will likely trot out the statement by Mrs. Desmond," he continued. "I don't know what to make of this statement. To be completely honest, I've made that statement myself, but I've never intended to do it. We're human beings, we say lots of things we don't intend. We don't even know if she made that statement before or after the shooting took place. To be frank, Richard Hrejsa was a piece of work. There was a long history of victimization of Susan and her daughter by Richard. The fact that she felt she need to gain a weapon and go to the aid of her daughter speaks volumes. She tried other ways. We heard from Bobby Albert – the police have been out to the house a number of times. She attempted to serve him eviction papers and he tore them up and threw them in her face. No one intended to kill anyone that night. This is a tragic accident. An attempt to defend her daughter."
He went on to explain the request of the defense would be for the sentence to be a regimented probation with each and every condition sought by the court. If not probation, then it was suggested the sentence be cut in half to 55 months instead of the presumptive 117 months.
"Let her get back to the only family she has left–her daughter and grandson," he said. "The suggested sentence serves the state's interests in deterrence, it would save the state a ton of money, and at the end of the day, this community is not safer with Susan May removed from it.
Norris was next to give her closing statement.
"Regarding issue one: criminal history, she does only have a prior DUI," began Norris. "The other half of this issue regarding aid to a family member, based on my understanding, a family member was not in need of aid. There were no threats being made at the time of the incident. Another issue is premeditation: She had to go from one room down the hallway, retrieve a gun, she shot it into the floor because she stated she 'wanted to make sure it was loaded,' carried it into the kitchen and for someone that tripped on a flip-flop, she got one lucky shot. She shot him in the back of the neck. She then spent six weeks with her brother off the back deck covered in garbage. She loved him and left him in the backyard to rot."
Norris pointed out Susan's continual use of a firearm in her lifetime.
"She has previously had other fire arm incidents," she said. "It seems to me that the defense wants to portray her as someone that has barely touched a firearm. It appears as if she thinks anything is remotely going on, she goes and gets one of her firearms. And then calls 9-1-1. Whether or not she was under the influence. It appears to be a character trait. She feels the need to bring a gun to a knife fight–or not fight at all. She shot the man from approximately 5 feet away. That would be the first person she shot when she was under the influence. The next time, she might not have been under the influence, but she shot someone. The average person doesn’t shoot anybody."
Norris reminded the court of the victim in the case.
"Ultimately Rick Hrejsa is the victim," she continued. "Let us not forget that she told her friend Carolyn that she wanted to evict him. She told them, 'it’d just be easier if I killed him.' Carolyn told three officers this three separate times. Clearly, she was thinking about it. Based on that information, the state would suggest the community would be safer if she were incarcerated and that she is a threat with a firearm has the tendency she wants to utilize a firearm. Generally there's nothing inherently wrong with using a firearm as long as you’re not shooting other people with it. Hrejsa was facing away. He was kneeling on the ground and she shot him in the back of the neck. She wasn’t involved in the conversation or the argument at the time. Someone who kills their brother by shooting them in the back of the neck does not deserve probation. We’re here to make sure she is punished for what she did to Rick."
Susan May also addressed the court.
"I‘d like to apologize for why I’m here," she said tearfully. "I love my brother, I miss him. I know I can’t bring him back. I don’t go around town trying to hurt anybody. Every time I called for help, they took him away, let him drink more and they even brought him back drunk. I have very good memories of my brother and I have nightmares of him too. That’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life.
“For the last 14 years, I’ve stayed in my house. I didn’t go anywhere, I didn’t bother anybody. He was not violent when my grandson was in the house. If he came home that day from walking down the road, my grandson left. I had no vehicle, so we walked where we had to go or Nicole took me. I’m sorry all this happened. I still have my broken toe from when I hit the door-jam. You can still see it. I heard the argument through the windows."
Satterfield then addressed the issue directly.
"For your sake I’m sorry this happened as well," she began. "There's been no one to speak for your brother on his behalf you can’t change the fact that he's dead or that you’re the one that killed him. This was a reckless act that exhibited extreme indifference for the value of human life. It is a level two offense. Given the nature of the offense, as categorized by class two there is a presumptive sentence of 109-123 months with the Department of Corrections. In this court’s view, throughout most of the history of your life, alcohol seems to be a reoccurring theme that contributes to a dysfunctional cycle of living. One that you exposed your 11-year-old daughter to. I can’t image what she's witnessed in her lifetime. I don’t think that the facts completely support your daughter was in any kind of imminent danger at that moment.
“I am not convinced and I won’t be convinced from what I’ve heard in the last two days that you had no other option in regard to your brother–that your only option was to shoot him and to kill him. You may have believed after a period of time may have agreed that he was a bum, no good or worthless. He may have even been mean and nasty to you and at times her, but I am not convinced that the only alternative you had was to take his life to resolve the situation. We don’t, in this country, let people just take the law in their own hands and just shoot someone because they deserve a killin’ and that’s basically how he’s been described. Everything was his fault at all times. Certainly described as worthless by his own family. You have to at some point acknowledge your own responsibility with people you’ve chosen to let live under your roof. Your relationship was volatile at times. The bottom line is: you took the life of a human being and you did it recklessly with extreme indifference. There is a price to be paid for that."
Susan May received 109 months with the Department of Corrections. She will be able to gain a 15 percent good-time credit as well as 220 day jail time credit. Upon her release, she will complete a probationary period of 36 months. She will also be forced to register as a violent offender for 15 years after her release.