RACINE — A judge on Monday convicted a Racine man of fatally strangling a retired Lake Geneva teacher more than two years ago in Racine and stealing her quarters.
Wilbert L. Thomas, 68, was accused of the Oct. 14, 2010, beating and strangulation death of retired teacher Sandra Lee Teichow. He sat quietly in the basement-level courtroom Monday as Racine County Circuit Judge Tim Boyle read his decision: guilty of first-degree intentional homicide, theft and two counts of bail jumping, all felonies.
While Thomas didn’t visibly react to Boyle’s decision, he later disputed — not the homicide charge — but the theft count.
“I had no reason to steal from the victim. I had no reason at all,” Thomas told Boyle. “I had my own money. $10.”
Teichow, 67, was in Racine at that time for a haircut and to hand out quarters to those in need. She was spotted in at least two Racine laundromats before somehow crossing paths with Thomas that fall afternoon.
As Boyle painstakingly detailed every reason he used to make his decision, about a half-dozen of Teichow’s family members and friends sat watching in the courtroom Monday.
“Sandra Lee Teichow was a humanitarian who was also a beloved family member, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a sister and an aunt. Her death due to an uncalled-for murderous act of rage caused so much pain and suffering for those who loved her. She is deeply missed to this day,” her family said in a prepared statement.
“We are approaching the end of this first phase of this two-part trial process and we look forward to justice being served,” her family stated.
They left the courtroom without comment, some appearing somber, some wearing smiles.
Teichow’s body was found behind a home in the 1300 block of West Sixth Street after one of the homeowners stepped outside to shake out a rug before company arrived. Police were called to the home at 4:14 p.m. that day, and found Teichow fatally strangled. Her partially clothed body was left near her gold 2004 Honda CRV, lying on her back with dirt in her face and her arms outstretched, according to search warrants and witness testimony during Thomas’ bench trial in spring.
A Racine police investigator testified during the trial that it appeared Teichow’s body had been posed. Her digital camera was beneath one armpit, with leaves and sticks partially covering it. A mark in the dirt near her looked like someone reached down and grabbed a handful of earth.
“The family is just as happy that this phase of the saga is over,” Assistant District Attorney Robert Repischak said after Monday’s hearing. “They have some finality of what happened to their mother.”
Boyle’s ruling now plunges the case into the second phase of the trial: Thomas’ mental health at the time of the slaying.
Thomas, a convicted sex offender, has had a history of mental health issues. He’s had six competency hearings since Teichow’s death, ping-ponging between being competent and declared mentally unfit for trial.
While found competent to proceed to trial, the next phase looks at whether he was mentally sound at the time of the killing.
Attorneys on both sides must talk with mental health experts to determine what day they are available for the next, one-day hearing. Suggested dates, tentatively, are in September and October. Boyle set a status conference for July 22.
“It’s likely he will spend most, if not all, of his life institutionalized,” Repischak said after the hearing, adding Thomas either could be in prison or a state mental hospital after he is sentenced.
Assistant state public defenders Travis Schwantes and Carl Johnson declined to comment after Boyle issued his decision.
Repischak called the judge’s decision “well thought out” and “justified by the evidence.”