Shot At Redemption

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"When he got him to do this, he promised me that he would be with us and that he would be with him," Maria Lederer says. "The only time he went and see him was one time. I went, crying, and told him that my husband needed him and I wanted him to go and see him and talk to him. We went together. That's the only time he went and see him."

Maria Lederer left Paradise Springs in February, and church members no longer help with child care. She's risen to assistant manager at Taco Bell, but money is tight. She's worried about the summer, when she'll be working 50 hours a week and her daughter will be out of school. "I'm in a big crisis," she says.

Hodgeson, who is recovering from neck surgery, declined to talk in detail. "There's still things that I'm still involved with, with the police and FBI," Hodgeson says. "There's a lot of stuff -- I'm not really at liberty to talk. At the time things need to come out, it's going to come out. And now isn't the time."

Is it possible that Lederer may be implicated in crimes beyond the MacDonald homicide? "That's a possibility," Hodgeson answers. "I don't know."

That's ridiculous, Lederer says. "Bring it on. I don't have nothing to hide."

After no visits and no letters from Hodgeson, Lederer has severed his ties with Paradise Springs. The same day he pleaded guilty to murder, he received a letter from a parishioner who described Hodgeson as a "humble, dedicated and loving pastor" and berated Lederer for turning against him. He wrote that he'd reviewed more than five years of notes he'd taken during sermons and Bible study meetings. "I found one consistent message -- trust God and follow Christ," the parishioner wrote. "I encourage you to continue pursuing Christ (alone) at all costs. I also encourage you to continue to work out your faith on your own."

Not a single church member was present earlier this month when Lederer pleaded guilty to murder.

One look at photographs of Monique MacDonald's body was enough for Victoria Washington, a former police officer who's now an attorney assigned to the capital crimes unit of the Maricopa County Public Defender's Office. This was a case she couldn't take to a jury.

"I do homicides," Lederer's lawyer says. "I've been a cop for six years. But the pictures of the crime scene -- where the body was found -- that was bad. And I've seen a lot."

In death, MacDonald was nude. Animals had gnawed through the duct tape and taken away her left ear and eyelid, eating the flesh from much of her face clear down to the bone. Her left eyeball was dehydrated and collapsed. Flies had laid yellowish eggs in her nose and at the entrances to her vagina and anus. A pair of .22-caliber bullets were embedded in her brain, one fired into her face next to her nose, the other shot into her lower lip. Duct tape was wrapped around her mouth, head and neck, her ankles and wrists bound by rope. The killer had looped tape around her neck, creating a makeshift handle to carry the 98-pound body like so much garbage.

"I would want to know where he got that idea from," says Detective Fragoso, who hasn't interviewed Lederer since his confession. A year or two before MacDonald's murder, other women were found shot to death with their heads wrapped in tape, but those killings were solved long ago, the detective says. "I don't know if it was a copycat thing or what," he says. "I don't know if it's because they're afraid to look at their faces after they're dead. Maybe it's the best way for them to handle it -- cover up their faces; then they're an object."

A family vacationing from California found MacDonald during a hike the day before Christmas. What the family saw would stay with them the rest of their lives, the mother wrote in a sympathy letter to Patton.

"My youngest son [then 7] began to cry and said, 'Somebody has to go tell her mommy she is dead, and it's Christmas Eve,'" the mother wrote. "I am still angry with the person who did this to my family and, worst of all, to your family. We have talked with our kids a lot about this when they want to talk, but how do you explain things that even as an adult you don't understand?"

This killing was over the top, and all the "I'm sorry"s in the world couldn't change that. Mercy from a judge and the prosecutor's office was Lederer's only hope. At first, MacDonald's mother wasn't sure what constituted justice. In September, she told New Times a sentence as short as 12 years might be sufficient. After all, her daughter's killer would never have been caught if he hadn't turned himself in. But, as she learned details of her daughter's death -- the tape, the icy, calculated gunshots -- she decided that Lederer deserves nothing less than 25 years.

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Bruce Rushton