MINOT, N.D. - Convicted murderer Richie Wilder Jr. will be permitted no contact with his two children by the woman he murdered while they are still minors.
Judge Gary Lee had originally ordered a lifetime ban on contact between Wilder and his daughter and son, who were 12 and 6, respectively, at the time of his sentencing hearing in May. But Lee amended the no contact order in a ruling issued Monday, Sept. 18.
"It is an order which does not respect the rights of (the children) to make their own choices regarding their father once they are of legal age," wrote Lee in his order. "The Court will therefore modify its order of no contact, out of respect for (the children) to allow them a right to decide for themselves what their relationship with Richie Wilder, Jr. will be once they become adults."
The children are currently living out of state with their maternal grandmother, who has been appointed their legal guardian.
Wilder is serving life without parole for the murder of his ex-wife, Angila Wilder, in November 2015. He is appealing his conviction to the North Dakota Supreme Court and wants a new trial.
His motion regarding the no contact order with the children was separate. He had wanted the right to have contact with the youngsters, perhaps through visits, phone calls or correspondence. His defense attorney, Raissa Carpenter, had argued that the no contact order with the children is illegal because it is not authorized by state statute. Ward County Deputy State's Attorney Kelly Dillon argued the no contact order is justified under the state's new Marsy's Law, which protects victim's rights.
Carpenter countered that no one had asserted the children's rights under Marsy's Law. Further, she argued Marsy's Law was not in effect at the time the murder was committed and the law cannot be applied retroactively.
In his ruling on Monday, Lee wrote that judges have the power to order no contact with victims in different circumstances, such as a condition of bond, before the accused goes on trial, and as a condition of supervised probation for an offender who has been sentenced.
"It would be incongruous to say that the Court has the authority at the front end to impose a no contact order as a condition of bond, and at the backend as a condition of probation, but has no authority to do the same thing in the middle while a violent felon is serving a sentence," wrote Lee. "This Court believes that it has both statutory and inherent authority to issue a no contact order to protect victims of crime, especially when the victim is a child."
Lee also wrote that judges in the state have the power to "fashion remedies" to protect victims of violent crime from having contact with a violent offender, even without legislative authorization.
The children's legal guardian at the time of the sentencing hearing in May was their stepmother, Cynthia Wilder. Cynthia Wilder was subsequently charged with conspiracy to commit murder for allegedly helping Richie Wilder Jr. plan the murder of Angila Wilder and of covering it up.
Lee wrote that he had little faith that Cynthia Wilder would protect the children from Richie Wilder Jr., so he acted in the place of a parent by his de facto invocation of Marsy's Law on their behalf.
"If the Court has erred by trying to shield these children from further contact with the cold-blooded killer of their mother, so be it," wrote Lee in his ruling. "It is a mistake the Court will make every time in order to protect children."
Lee wrote that Wilder has undoubtedly psychologically scarred his children by murdering their mother and he has abused them by doing so.
Lee also writes that Marsy's Law does not impose further punishment upon Richie Wilder Jr. He has already lost the right to custody of his children because he is serving a life sentence without parole. His loss of the possibility of any contact with the children is not further punishment but is a "collateral consequence" of his crime of murder of Angila Wilder. Therefore, Lee writes that the sentence is not unconstitutional.
Lee did concede that it was "overreach" to make the no contact order a lifetime ban, which was why he decided to lift the no contact order for each child after their respective 18th birthdays.
Richie Wilder Jr. and Angila Wilder had a contentious relationship. He had been convicted of domestic violence against her during their marriage. After they divorced, they frequently battled over custody of their children – the daughter from Angila Wilder's previous relationship whom Richie Wilder had adopted and the son they had together. Their children were staying with Richie Wilder Jr. and Cynthia Wilder at their apartment on the night of the murder. Angila Wilder's 2-year-old son with her live-in boyfriend, Chris Jackson, was the only other person present in her home on the night of the murder. Richie Wilder Jr. stabbed his ex-wife dozens of times in her bed, then snuck out of the house, leaving the child alone in the house with his dead mother. The 2-year-old son was discovered in another room of the residence when his father came home from working an overnight shift at Walmart the following morning and called authorities when he saw his door had been kicked in. Angila Wilder was pregnant with a second child by Chris Jackson when Richie Wilder Jr. stabbed her to death.
In his written decision on Monday, Lee expressed particular horror over the circumstances of a "particularly evil ... crime of untold horror and depravity."
Richie Wilder Jr.'s wife, Cynthia Wilder, is currently being held at the Ward County Jail on the Class AA felony conspiracy to commit murder charge. The young daughter of Richie Wilder Jr. and Cynthia Wilder, who is now almost four years old, has also temporarily lost contact with both her parents and is in the care of her paternal grandfather out of state.