BURLINGTON, Vt. — When 78-year-old Alzheimer’s disease patient Mary Wilcox went missing five years ago, everyone thought she had wandered off.
For days, police and search-and-rescue teams using dogs combed the woods around her daughter’s rural Vermont home.
Daughter Jeanne Sevigny told police Wilcox had disappeared after overhearing her talking to a family member about the possibility of putting her in a nursing home. Sevigny even gave a tearful interview to a local TV station, saying she hoped her mother was OK and she preferred to think of her on a bus or a train somewhere, not cold in the woods.
She knew it was a lie: A week before filing a missing persons report, Sevigny shot her mother to death, burned her body in a backyard fire pit and gave a suitcase containing her remains to her son — Wilcox’s grandson — to bury.
On Thursday, the 61-year-old Sevigny pleaded no contest to manslaughter and was sentenced to at least four years and nine months in prison. She pleaded guilty to illegally disposing of her mother’s body, which was never found.
The truth came out in 2009, when the estranged girlfriend of grandson Greg Sevigny told police that Jeanne Sevigny had shown up at his workplace after Wilcox’s disappearance with a large plastic case and told him to get rid of it.
Asked what was inside, Jeanne Sevigny said, “your grandmother,” according to a police affidavit.
When police confronted her, Sevigny said that Wilcox had been suicidal and that she found her with a pistol and was trying to wrest it from her when it discharged, hitting her in the chest. Sevigny said she panicked, incinerating Wilcox’s remains in a backyard fire pit before enlisting her son to dispose of them.
But prosecutors said Sevigny — who was charged with second-degree murder — killed her mother because caring for her had become a burden.
Searches of the woods behind Westford Elementary School yielded no body, leaving prosecutors without key evidence going to trial.
That’s part of why they offered a plea, prosecutor T.J. Donovan told Chittenden Superior Court Judge Michael Kupersmith on Thursday. Not having Wilcox’s body, her clothing or the bed sheets upon which she’d been killed were problems for prosecutors, he said.
Mary Wilcox’s son and Sevigny’s brother Tom Wilcox said that without any “substantial evidence” such as that from a forensic examination of the dead woman’s remains, there was “too much reasonable doubt that Jeanne Sevigny is guilty of manslaughter or murder.”
“I believe my mother was most likely trying to take her own life rather than be placed in a nursing facility,” he said in a statement read in court.”
He said his mother had said she didn’t want to be placed in a nursing home like her mother, who also suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
Greg Sevigny originally was charged with unlawful disposal of a body, but the charge was dropped.
Jeanne Sevigny’s husband, Michael Sevigny, knew nothing about what had happened until his wife was charged, prosecutors said.
Jeanne Sevigny, who opted not to give a statement when given the opportunity at her sentencing, was sentenced to between four years and nine months and 15 years on the manslaughter count and will concurrently serve the same minimum sentence on the illegal body disposal count.
As part of the plea, she agreed not to serve as executor of Wilcox’s $120,000 estate or to be a beneficiary of her will. In addition, she’s barred from benefiting from any book deals or movie rights stemming from the case.
Another son of Wilcox and sibling of Sevigny, Alfred Wilcox, of South River, N.J., spoke outside the courtroom after the sentencing.
“I think,” he said, “my sister got off very lucky with her plea agreement.”