Judge Vacates Death Penalty for German Killer -- Finds That Rudi Apelt is Retarded

Rudi Apelt, a German national sentenced to death in Pinal County in 1989, cannot be killed because he is mentally retarded, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sylvia Arrellano ruled yesterday.

Both Apelt and his brother, Michael, were sentenced to death after they brutally murdered Michael's wife, Cindy Monkman, in hopes of cashing in on an insurance policy. Both brothers then claimed they were retarded -- and therefore could not be executed.

In the same ruling, though, Judge Arellano upheld the death sentence for Michael Apelt. Arellano found that Michael "has failed to show by even a preponderance of the evidence that he is mentally retarded."

New Times has written about this case several times, including this excellent piece by Paul Rubin in 1994, which gives an overview of Cindy Monkman's tragic death, and this column addressing the issue of Michael Apelt's claimed retardation in 2007.

You can read Judge Arrellano's ruling here.

Here's the key excerpt when it comes to Michael:

After leaving school, he worked at various jobs, at least one for an
extended period of time, served in the military and was honorably
discharged, married, and lived independently. At his sentencing
hearing, he introduced two letters from former employers that
documented his terms of employment and lack of work-related problems,
and a letter from a doctor who stated that he treated the defendant for
various physical illnesses between 1984 and 1988 but observed no
psychological problems. ... He
traveled to the United States and Mexico, learned to speak English
sufficiently to communicate and interact appropriately with others,
negotiated purchases of vehicles and apartment leases, understood
foreign currency exchange rates, and obtained employment. After
persuading the victim to marry him, he convinced her to buy a life
insurance policy as part of his scheme to murder her for the proceeds.
Knowing he would eventually be questioned by the police about his
wife's disappearance, he devised an explanation that she left the
apartment that evening after receiving a telephone call, telling him
she would meet him later at a restaurant, and established an alibi
consistent with this story. He maintained this story consistently
despite persistent police interrogation and again more than a year
later at his trial.

Yeah, doesn't sound retarded to us.

Rudi Apelt, however, was a trickier case. As Judge Arellano notes:

All the experts agreed that based upon the documentary record and
information from family members, the defendant exhibited significant
developmental disabilities from an early age. The defendant's mother
and siblings corroborate that the defendant was developmentally slow
and talked much later than his siblings. Based on the 1966
psychological assessment, the defendant was assigned to the Special
School for Educationally Impaired Children with learning disabilities.
This assessment found that his mental deficiency was not based solely
on his speech delay and speech impairment, but also on his intellectual

The defendant was not allowed to attend the special education school
until age seven based in part on his inability to communicate in a
comprehensible manner. He performed poorly during his eight-year
attendance, repeating several grades, and had not advanced beyond the
7th grade when he left the school at age fifteen.

After leaving school, the defendant was unable to attain gainful
employment or function on his own. He was dismissed from the mandatory
military service after having served less than one year. He never lived
alone for any significant period of time and relied primarily on his
brother Michael to take care of him. As shown by most of the state's
evidence at trial, the defendant was usually accompanied by Michael or
some other person during the events leading up to the murder. Most of
the witnesses had little recall of the defendant's conduct, focusing
more on Michael's behavior. The trial evidence supports the theory that
the scheme to marry a woman and kill her for the insurance money was
devised by Michael, who convinced the defendant to participate. In
summarizing the mitigation the defendant presented at his sentencing
hearing, the Supreme Court noted:

"Dr. Bindelglass, the defense psychiatrist, testified that Rudi had a
pattern of doing 'almost automatically' whatever Michael told him to
do. The pattern developed because Rudi was severely beaten by his
father whenever he failed to keep his younger brother, Michael, quiet
and out of his father's way."

We're attempting to get in contact with Kathy Monkman, the late victim's sister and a tireless crusader for crime victims and their families. We'll update you when we get a chance to talk.

Anne Hilby, a spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, said that the office "will review the ruling and determine how best to proceed." Thanks to a glitch with the court's notification system, lawyers in the attorney general's office only learned of the verdict today -- after getting calls from the media.