One chapter of Claudia Hoerig case closed, another to start in court

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Paul Hoerig of Howland shows a photograph of his brother Karl in his Air Force uniform. After nearly 11 years since Karl Hoerig was slain in his Newton Falls home, his wife, Claudia, is back in Trumbull County to face trial on a charge of aggravated murder in the March 2007 shooting death of her husband. She fled to Brazil within days of the murder and has been fighting extradition ever since.

WARREN — After more than a decade of living in Brazil following the murder of her husband, avoiding extradition while operating an accounting business and living a seemingly middle class life, Trumbull County Jail inmate Claudia Hoerig is appearing today in court to face a 2007 indictment on a charge of aggravated murder.

Hoerig is scheduled to appear 10 a.m. in the courtroom of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Andrew D. Logan, where she will be represented by defense attorneys from the public defender’s office, David Rouzzo and Matthew Pentz.

The hearing has been a long time coming. A Trumbull County jury indicted Hoerig April 24, 2007, after her husband Karl Hoerig was found shot to death in their Newton Falls home several days after he told friends he was going to leave his wife.

After years of waiting for the federal government to persuade Brazilian authorities to send Hoerig back to the United States to face the charges, legislation and pushing from lawmakers and consistent dedication from Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, Paul Hoerig said he is relieved the woman will finally see the inside of a court room.

“It’s been so long; I was shocked. I wasn’t expecting this. After all of this time … I knew Dennis Watkins was working on it. But still, when he called I was shocked, in a good way,” Paul Hoerig, Karl’s brother, said.

Paul Hoerig, of Howland, credited media exposure for helping put pressure on the U.S. State Department to push for Hoerig’s return to the county. Though Claudia Hoerig was born in Brazil, she became a U.S. citizen in 1999. Brazilian authorities said they would not extradite one of their citizens, but Watkins argued she gave up her citizenship when she was naturalized. Brazil eventually revoked her citizenship in 2013, but Hoerig appealed the decision up to the country’s highest court, without success.

During the uncertain years, Paul Hoerig said his family was comforted by Watkins’ efforts to stay in touch often. The prosecutor called Karl’s family even when there weren’t updates, to check in with them.

“That is something some people might not realize. He never forgot what we were fighting for. He never let this case go; he never gave up hope,” Paul Hoerig said.

The tide turned when CBS-TV’s “48 Hours” pushed the case into the national spotlight, Paul Hoerig said.

“When they got involved, it put a lot of pressure out there,” he said. “Without the media — the local media too — we’d be in the same spot, this wouldn’t have happened.”

During the “48 Hours” episode, which aired in November, Paul Hoerig goes into a closed-door meeting with State Department officials. Hoerig said he promised not to reveal details of the meeting, but he said things started to change afterward.

“It was a very positive meeting and it marked a turning point; we started to get better, more consistent communication from them,” Paul Hoerig said. “I started to feel like it would move forward.”

For so many years, the Hoerig family had questions without satisfactory answers, Paul Hoerig said. Taking a trip to Brazil with the “48 Hours” crew to film in the neighborhood where Claudia Hoerig was living before her arrest was “enlightening,” Hoerig said.

“We wondered for all of these years what kind of conditions she was living in … to find out she was running a business and living in that nice, middle-class neighborhood … it took away some of the questions,” Paul Hoerig said.

Erin Moriarty, “48 Hours” correspondent, said Thursday she heard from Watkins after the episode aired that the trip to Brazil had a “positive effect” on his efforts, but she was surprised the Brazilian president acted so quickly.

“It is a major development and is what the Hoerig family hoped for, but if there is a trial, it will be very difficult for all involved. We plan on covering all the developments to their conclusion,” Moriarty stated in an email.

Paul Hoerig said he will be in the courtroom for every hearing and, if she is found guilty, supports whatever sentence Watkins recommends.

“We’ve been waiting 11 years; we’ve been fighting for 11 years,” Paul Hoerig said. “The case is very cut and dry. I am confident in the facts of the case.”

Rouzzo declined to comment on the case until his office reviews the evidence.

Paul Hoerig said the ordeal has been hard on his niece and nephews — Karl’s children from a prior marriage.

“It was horrific. They’ve done well, considering the circumstances. But it is still hard on them,” he said.

A pilot, Maj. Karl Hoerig was a decorated combat veteran who flew more than 200 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He served with the 773rd Airlift Squadron out of the 910th Airlift Wing in Vienna and flew for Southwest Airlines. He would be 54 if he were alive today.

He was a smart man, who read encyclopedias as a boy and worked on cars at a young age, Paul Hoerig said.

“You had to know him to know how smart he was. He had so many different talents, so many different abilities.”