Gov. Reynolds denies commutation for 74-year-old Judy White

Judy White was involved in 1979 murder-for-hire plot in West Branch

Judy White, who asked Gov. Kim Reynolds to commute her life prison sentence for first-degree murder, poses for a photo w
Judy White, who asked Gov. Kim Reynolds to commute her life prison sentence for first-degree murder, poses for a photo with her daughter, Cynthia Djengue, of Phoenix, visiting the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. (Submitted photo)

Gov. Kim Reynolds has denied the commutation request of Judy White, a 74-year-old grandmother convicted in a 1979 murder-for-hire plot in West Branch.

Reynolds, who has not commuted any life sentences since she took office in May 2017, told White in a letter last Thursday that while White’s rehabilitation over 41 years in prison was laudable, Reynolds could not make her eligible for parole.

“Given the serious and violent nature of Mr. Jensen’s death and your participation and involvement in that crime, the extraordinary remedy of a commutation is not appropriate at this time,” the letter states.

White was convicted in 1979 of conspiring to murder Ady Jensen, 39, of Iowa City, at his parents’ farm in West Branch. She helped plan and carry out the plot that involved a hit man holding Jensen’s parents hostage for 12 hours until their son arrived, court records state.

The goal of the scheme, which also involved Jensen’s wife, Jeanne Jensen, was to claim a $50,000 life insurance policy.

Ady Jensen’s sister, Sandra Sweeney, of North Liberty, said Tuesday night Reynolds’s decision was justice for her brother.

“It elated all of us because she was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of an innocent person for money,” Sweeney said of the governor’s decision. “She (White) knew was she was doing, she got life in prison and that’s it. She got what she deserved.”


White, who had 60 letters of support for her commutation, argued she’d already served more time in prison than anyone else involved in the murder and that she had been promised a shorter sentence under a 1982 plea deal.

White’s family said she had been manipulated and sexually abused by her husband, Robert Kern, who was an Iowa City insurance agent who sold Jeanne Jensen the life insurance policy without her husband’s knowledge.

Kern also was convicted and sent to prison for life without parole, but died in 2016. Jeanne Jensen was allowed to plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to 10 years, but served four.

The accused hit man, Andrew Oglevie, was acquitted in 1983.

Iowa’s last commutation was of Rasberry Williams, of Waterloo, in April 2013. Williams, who served 39 years in prison for a 1974 murder outside a Waterloo pool hall, was paroled in 2014.

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