The Ottumwa Courier

December 17, 2013

Iowan convicted in death of daughter leaves prison


Ottumwa Courier

---- — MITCHELLVILLE, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa woman convicted in the death of her 2-year-old daughter is out of prison after serving a fraction of her 50-year sentence.

Heidi Watkins, 43, was released Monday from the Iowa Correctional Institution of Women in Mitchellville, the Sioux City Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1c9Hmhl ). The Iowa Parole Board granted her parole on Dec. 5.

Watkins was sentenced in December 2000 on one count of multiple acts of child endangerment in the Jan. 4, 2000, death of Shelby Duis. She had served nearly 13 years in prison.

A judge said prosecutors proved Shelby was injured on at least three occasions before her death. The girl's body was found in the Spirit Lake home Watkins shared with her boyfriend, Jesse Wendelsdorf, who was acquitted of murder and sexual abuse charges in a separate trial.

The newspaper reported Watkins was scheduled to complete her prison sentence on Nov. 19, 2022. Even the earned-time credit, which cuts 1.2 days off for every day served, would have had Watkins serving more than 22 years. But the parole board has the option to release an inmate earlier.

"I'm disappointed that the parole board has seen fit to release her at this stage," said Charlie Thoman, an assistant Iowa Attorney General who helped prosecute Watkins. "From my standpoint, I think anybody else familiar with the injuries and suffering Shelby Duis had to endure for the last two months of her young life would definitely believe Heidi Watkins should definitely spend much longer in prison than she has."

Michael Johnson, a Spirit Lake attorney who represented Watkins during subsequent appeals, said he was pleased with the board's ruling.

"She has spent a significant time in prison and, for lack of better terminology, has paid her dues," he said.

Iowa Department of Corrections spokesman Fred Scaletta said Watkins will be on parole and must check in with a parole officer until November 2022.

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Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com