News

Woman convicted in 1979 West Branch murder shouldn't go free, victim's sister says

Judy White, serving life in prison for Ady Jensen's murder, wants possibility of parole

Judy White, who is asking Gov. Kim Reynolds to commute her life prison sentence for first-degree murder, appears here fr
Judy White, who is asking Gov. Kim Reynolds to commute her life prison sentence for first-degree murder, appears here from prison in a video chat with her daughter and granddaughter. (Submitted photo)
/

Family of a man slain in West Branch in 1979 say one of the killers imprisoned decades ago should not be allowed the possibility of parole.

Judy White, 74, has asked Gov. Kim Reynolds to commute her life prison sentence, saying the 41 years she’s been in prison already are more time than anyone else in the case served and more time than outlined in a 1982 plea deal.

But Sandra Sweeney, the sister of Ady Jensen, points out that White helped plan and carry out Jensen’s murder in an attempt to claim a $50,000 insurance policy. White was part of the plan to tie up Jensen’s parents and hold them hostage until Jensen came to their West Branch house in April 1979.

“She’s always come across as this ‘poor me’ person,” Sweeney, of North Liberty, said of White. “Judy knew all of this was going on and she went along with it.”

Reynolds has until Aug. 25 to decide.

Sweeney was three years younger than her brother, who was 39 when he was fatally shot. She remembers the horror of learning what happened at her parents’ farm house in West Branch. Their parents, Ferdinand and Olga, lived in fear for years after the murder because the killer told them he would come back and kill them, Sweeney said.

“It ruined my brother’s children’s lives,” she said.

Not only was their father dead, but their mother, Jeanne Jensen, was charged in the case.

Jeanne Jensen, who testified she wanted an end to a “confining marriage,” was allowed to plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison and served four.

White and Robert Kern, White’s husband at the time, both were convicted of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life prison term without the possibility of parole. Kern, an Iowa City insurance agent, sold a policy to Jeanne Jensen without her husband knowing.

Kern died of skin cancer in prison in 2016 after being denied commutation at least twice.

Andrew Oglevie was tried on allegations he was the hit man, but he was acquitted May 3, 1983.

White signed a plea deal with then-Cedar County Attorney Lee Beine agreeing to testify against Oglevie in exchange for Beine’s recommendation that her sentence by reduced to 30 years, Beine confirmed this week.

“She did give sworn depositions and I’m 99 percent sure she testified,” he said of White, adding that the Iowa Attorney General’s Office had handled Oglevie’s trial.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller cited that agreement as a reason Reynolds should commute White’s sentence. He was one of about 60 people to write letters in support of the commutation, according to White’s lawyer.

One person who says White should stay in prison is Bob Dvorsky, a retired Iowa senator from Coralville, who wrote a letter opposing the commutation. He has known Sweeney for years.

“We don’t have the death penalty in Iowa, fortunately, but we have something called ‘life without hope,’” Dvorsky said this week. “There’s been very few commutations over the years. There has to be a really compelling reason to do that and I don’t think there is one here.”

White participated in the “horrendous” crime and the only reason she has served more time than others is because Kern died, Dvorsky said. As for White’s argument that Kern had abused and manipulated her, “there’s no way to verify that or not.”

Beine, who has a private law practice in Tipton, said that although he allowed White to sign a plea deal, he does not agree with Miller’s statement she was the “least culpable” of the four people involved.

“She was at least as complicit as her husband,” he said.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.