Connell woman pleads guilty to killing Kennewick grandmother in 2016

Connell woman pleads guilty to killing Kennewick grandmother in 2016

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Today in court, Theresa Wiltse, the Connell woman accused of kidnapping and killing Sandra Harris from Kennewick, pleaded guilty to first degree aggravated murder.

She is now officially admitting to kidnapping and killing of the Kennewick grandmother.

Last we heard, Wiltse was pleading not guilty. So what changed?

According to Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller, an abundance of evidence made any other outcome unlikely.

"I believe," Miller said. "That if the defendant thought there was any chance she could get off, even on a lesser charge, this case would have gone to trial."

The Benton County prosecutor said his team worked hard to keep their case against Wiltse air-tight.

For Miller, it became personal.

"What Sandra Harris went through in the last hours of her life still bothers me," he said.

In November of 2016, Theresa Wiltse kidnapped Sandra Harris from her Kennewick home demanding Randy Harris, Sandra's husband of 30 years, pay $250 thousand in ransom.

"I think that the uniquely sad part of the case," said Miller. "Is that Randy received the initial ransom phone call from his wife and he could tell that she was scared, he could tell that she was in trouble. He went and got the ransom for her."

Kennewick police set up a sting, nabbing Wiltse when she showed up to collect the money.

Unfortunately, Sandra wasn't with her.

Her body was discovered along Coffin Rd. in Rural Benton County a few days later.

Shot to death.

"The forensics on the gun that was used to kill Sandra Harris matched the defendants DNA, so we had a very strong case," Miller said.

Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher said teamwork between different agencies made this outcome possible.

"[It] gives credit to criminal justice and the great work that Law-enforcement does here, that the prosecutors office does," Hatcher said.

The sheriff said the case is especially heartbreaking for his team.

"I was personally at the scene," he said. "And thought about what this family has gone through, and what she went through in the last moments of her life. I've met her husband and my heart just goes out to the entire family. I'm glad today it finally comes to closure for them."

In a brief statement about the woman who murdered his wife, Randy Harris told Action News:

"I"m pleased she realised she had no chance of being acquitted, and, pleased she decided to plead guilty instead of putting everyone through a horrid trial."

"It appears as though the defendant had some financial needs that would give her an incentive to do a crime to get some money," said Prosecuting Attorney Miller. "But it certainly baffles your mind ... how she thought this would've been a solution."

"We can't bring Sandra Harris back," Miller continued. "Randy and the rest of Sandra's family are going to miss her terribly for the rest of their lives. But at least we're going to see some justice done in that the defendant will die in prison."

Wiltse's offical sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 23.

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