NEW ALBANY — Just over three months after Judson Hoover admitted to killing his wife, Rebecca, at their New Albany home, he was sentenced in court to 65 years — the maximum — for her murder.
Hoover was arrested Aug. 31, just four days after one of the couple’s children reported to a school counselor seeing his father kill his mother in the basement of their home. The day of his initial hearing Sept. 3, Hoover pleaded guilty to Rebecca’s murder, his attorney George Strieb saying it was to prevent the child who witnessed the killing from having to testify during a trial.
As part of the plea agreement, Floyd County Prosecutor Chris Lane agreed not to seek the death penalty or a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
For a case of this magnitude to be resolved in a little over three months is highly unusual — some cases can go on for years. But a third of that time was spent by Hoover hiding his wife’s body. Over the 29 days after she was killed Aug. 2, her body was moved several times, including being in a trash can, a deep freeze and a 55-gallon barrel in two different storage units. The part of her legs that had been removed so she could fit into the drum have not been recovered by investigators.
“Rebecca Hoover wasn’t just murdered,” Floyd County Superior Court No. 1 Judge Susan Orth said before she handed down the sentence. “She was brutalized...her body was mutilated and treated as refuse.”
During the three-hour hearing Friday, Prosecutor Lane called five witnesses — three New Albany detectives who had worked on the case, Rebecca Hoover’s mother and sister.
The investigators, along with a taped confession the day before Hoover pleaded guilty, laid out the timeline of events.
Police first became involved on Aug. 5, when they were dispatched to the Hoovers’ St. Joseph Road home on a welfare check after Rebecca’s mother reported not having been able to reach her for three days. When police arrived, Hoover was halfway to the storage unit on Mount Tabor Road with Rebecca’s body in a freezer in the back of his truck. He was alerted to police being at his home, so returned and allowed them to search the residence while the body remained in the truck, and later succeeded in taking the body to the unit.
Hoover would move Rebecca’s body again before she was found by police in a second storage unit in Louisville on Aug. 31.
As part of its case for the full 65-year-sentence, the state played for the court parts of the recorded interview the previous day in which Hoover, with his attorney present, had laid out the series of events.
Investigators testified that Hoover initially said his wife had beaten him 200 or more times with a pipe, which prompted his retaliation that night.
“That’s when I grabbed her and threw her down and said ‘enough is enough,’” Hoover can he heard saying on the video clip. “[I] kicked her, stomped her, choked her, all of the above.” However photos taken of Hoover by police at his arrest a few weeks after the killing show no signs of recent injury.
Hoover said he believed his wife died from strangulation and he was aware that his child had witnessed it. Afterward, he went into another room with the child until the child fell asleep then returned to where his wife lay lifeless on the basement floor.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I didn’t believe it had gotten to that point.”
Hoover appeared in the video to be cooperating with police, trying to fill in as many details as he could about the situation, including which credit card he had used to purchase the 55-gallon drums. He said he had considered throwing his wife’s body into the Ohio River or burning her while camping, but couldn’t go through with any of these.
He said the day the child reported the incident, the child hadn’t wanted to go to school. Hoover had insisted.
“If I had been more in tune with it, we probably wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
Also during the time after Rebecca had been killed but before her body was found, Hoover had filed for divorce, appeared for a hearing in which he was granted custody of the children and possession of the house and filed a protective order.
At the time of his wife’s death, Hoover was out on bond in a separate case in which he was charged with level 6 felonies for battery and strangulation after one of their children witnessed him kicking Rebecca in the head and choking her and had run to get a neighbor. There was previously a no-contact order against him related to his wife; however, it was not in place when she was killed.
When Rebecca’s mother took the stand, she looked Hoover in the eye.
“You took everything from my grandchildren,” she said. “Shame on you. Shame on you forever. Judge, please give my son-in-law everything you’ve got. He’s earned it.”
Defense attorney Streib asked the judge to consider mitigating factors when choosing the sentence, including that he had pleaded guilty. However, the attorney said that at Hoover’s age of 50, “It doesn’t matter if it’s 65 years, 25 years,” Streib said. “At this point, Mr. Hoover has a death sentence.”
Hoover, who was largely quiet in court, had declined to give a statement and declined to call any witnesses. He did try to interject when Lane was delivering his closing argument, but then was afforded another chance later to speak.
“I just wish I could turn back time to before that day,” he said. “It will forever haunt and hurt me for the rest of my days.”
Lane said after the sentencing he was grateful for the quick resolution, especially in that it prevents the family from having to go through a drawn out case.
“We’re thankful that we could have the speedy administration of justice in this case,” Lane said. “The victim’s family, especially the children in the case, deserve a resolution and we will not back down from these. This is just one of the most heinous of my career that I have ever seen or heard and I’m just so thankful that we got justice.”
Hoover has 30 days to appeal the sentence, but cannot appeal the conviction since it was part of a plea agreement. Under Indiana sentencing guidelines, he must serve a minimum of 75% of the 65 years or 48 years and nine months.