Former Schoolteacher Sentenced to 30 Years in Slaying of His Wife

December 31, 1985|JAMES QUINN | Times Staff Writer

A former Thousand Oaks schoolteacher whose supporters raised more than half a million dollars for his defense was sentenced Monday in Delaware to 30 years in prison on a manslaughter charge for the 1976 slaying of his wife.

Robert David Hughes, 37, was twice convicted of strangling his wife, Serita Ann, but both verdicts were thrown out by the Delaware Supreme Court on appeal.

Although he has continued to protest his innocence, Hughes pleaded guilty to manslaughter Sept. 24 rather than face a third trial.

Because he has already served 4 1/2 years in prison, Hughes could be paroled in 3 1/2 years, Delaware authorities said.

But Hughes' attorney said that because of the notoriety of the crime in Delaware, he doubts that Hughes will be freed after serving the minimum sentence.

"It's a subjective process in this state," attorney Gerald Street said. "I fear Bob may not be paroled the first time or two he comes up because of pressure on the Parole Board."

Both Hughes and Street had asked Superior Court Judge Robert O'Hara to sentence Hughes to time already served, thereby releasing him immediately.

But the Wilmington, Del. judge imposed the maximum penalty for manslaughter, terming it "one of the worst manslaughter cases to come up for sentencing," according to wire service reports.

Despite Hughes' guilty plea, his supporters in the large Lutheran community in Thousand Oaks have continued to insist on his innocence.

"There is no way I can prove it, but I believe in his innocence, and so do a great many of us," said Pastor Willis Moerer of Ascension Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks, where Hughes taught the middle grades in the church's school before his first conviction.

Hughes, a mathematics teacher, was arrested on a murder charge within hours after telling police that he had discovered his wife's body in the driveway of the couple's Milford, Del., home. But police released him within a week for lack of evidence.

Seeking to make a "clean break with the past," Hughes moved to Thousand Oaks in June, 1977, with his two sons, Chad, now 11, and Brock, now 9.

A year later, the case was reopened in Delaware, and on Dec. 4, 1978, while teaching at the Ascension school, Hughes was again arrested on a murder warrant.

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