Florida seeks death penalty against woman accused of killing ‘lookalike’ for identity

Credit: AP Photos

Credit: AP Photos

Florida prosecutors have announced that they will seek the death penalty for a Minnesota fugitive who investigators believe killed a woman to assume her identity this spring in Fort Myers Beach.

Lois Ann Riess, 56, of Blooming Prairie, is charged with first-degree murder with a firearm in the April 5 slaying of Pamela Hutchinson. She is also charged with grand theft of a motor vehicle, grand theft and criminal use of personal identification of a deceased person.

Riess’ alleged crimes -- and her five weeks on the run -- made news across the country.

In the state's notice of intent to seek the death penalty, prosecutors list the grounds for seeking capital punishment, including the allegation that the homicide was committed in order to avoid arrest or to escape custody.

The crime was also committed for financial gain, the notice said.

The third reason was "that the capital felony was a homicide and was committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification," the notice said.

Riess was indicted June 6 in the case, according to court records. She became a suspect in Hutchinson's shooting death after the Bradenton woman's body was found April 9 in the condo in which she had been staying.

Riess’ abandoned Cadillac Escalade, which Minnesota investigators alleged she left the state in after gunning down her husband, 54-year-old David Riess, on the couple’s worm farm in March, was found in a park in Fort Myers.

Surveillance footage from a restaurant two blocks from Hutchinson’s borrowed timeshare condo also showed the victim chatting with Riess at the bar on April 5, the day authorities believe she was shot to death.

For those who knew Hutchinson, it was no surprise that she befriended Riess. Barbara Pauls, part owner of the timeshare where Hutchinson died, told the Fort Myers News-Press that Hutchinson, who arrived in Fort Myers Beach just two days before authorities believe she was killed, told her about meeting a new friend.

"She said she met a lady and that they were going out to eat that night and the lady was single, too," Pauls told the newspaper.

That new friend was apparently Riess.

Investigators alleged that Riess, a grandmother and compulsive gambler who Minnesota law enforcement officials dubbed “Losing Streak Lois,” targeted Hutchinson, 59, because the two women looked enough alike that Riess could potentially use her identification and money to continue her flight from police following her husband’s slaying.

There were several similarities in the two slayings, the News-Press reported. Like Hutchinson, David Riess' body was found on the bathroom floor of the couple's home, covered with towels. Also like Hutchinson, he had been dead for several days before his body was found March 23.

Both victims were shot multiple times and investigators believe both David Riess and Hutchinson were killed with the same handgun, though the shootings occurred more than 1,400 miles apart.

According to the Florida indictment, Lois Riess stole credit cards, money, jewelry, sunglasses and other property from Hutchinson after she was killed. Surveillance footage from Hutchinson's condo complex showed Riess walking into the parking lot, getting into Hutchinson's Acura and driving away.

The indictment also alleged that Riess went to a Fort Myers bank and used Hutchinson's identification to withdraw $5,000 from the dead woman's account before leaving town.

Riess was next spotted the following day at an Ocala Hilton hotel, where she used Hutchinson’s identification to check into a room, Lee County officials said. She stayed there the nights of April 6 and 7, according to investigators.

Surveillance footage from inside and outside the hotel showed both Riess and the stolen Acura.

According to the News-Press, a white straw hat Riess wore in the footage belonged to Hutchinson.

While in Ocala, Riess is accused of withdrawing another $500 from Hutchinson’s bank account.

From there, Riess is accused of making her way west across the southeastern U.S., making several stops in Louisiana before being seen driving the Acura around Corpus Christi, Texas. She attempted to get $200 from Hutchinson's account at a gas station, but the effort failed, the News-Press reported.

Riess used her own ID to claim a $1,500 jackpot at a Louisiana casino, the newspaper reported.

Riess remained at large until April 19, when she was arrested on South Padre Island in Texas. Dodge County Sheriff Scott Rose said a man recognized Riess when she walked into a restaurant on the island, located about 25 miles from the Mexican border, and looked at a menu.

Riess did not stay to eat at the restaurant, identified as Dirty Al’s Seafood, but the man called police to report the sighting. A South Padre Island police officer and a federal marshal responded to the area and spotted the white Acura TL that had been stolen from Hutchinson at another nearby restaurant, the Sea Ranch.

Riess was taken into custody as she sat at the bar inside, eating a meal and chatting with fellow patrons. She was subsequently extradited back to Florida to face charges in Hutchinson’s homicide.

She has not yet been charged in her husband’s death. Investigators in Minnesota said Riess is suspected of forging several checks and using them to take $11,000 from her husband’s business and personal accounts after he was killed.

Authorities said she was spotted gambling at Diamond Jo Casino in Northwood, Iowa, the day his body was found, but left before deputies could get there.

Braden Riess, one of David and Lois Riess' children, told Inside Edition in May that the tragedy that tore his family apart was "like a bad movie."

"I can't wrap my head around it," Braden Riess said. "My mom is a good lady."

He told Inside Edition that his mother had problems, but that the family was shocked by allegations that she turned violent and killed his father and Hutchinson.

“Just a mental breakdown,” Riess said. “She had her own demons, you know, lately.”

He said though her gambling addiction has plagued her over the past few years, his entire family is shocked and devastated that the woman he described as a good mother “snapped.”

“She was caring,” Braden Riess said. “Always put herself second and us kids first.”

The distraught son told Inside Edition that gambling addiction ruins lives. When asked what he would say to his mother, his answer was simple.

“Just tell her I love her,” he said.

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