The family of Audrey “Elaine” St. Clair thought the man convicted of her murder would stay locked up for the rest of his life.
But Harry Sisco, 78, wants Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to commute his sentence, and the Iowa Parole Board is scheduled to interview him about the request Friday in Des Moines.
“This isn’t fair,” Angela Daniels, St. Clair’s oldest daughter, said in a telephone interview from her Kansas home. “My mother was laid to rest in a grave in Carthage (Ill.). This case should have been laid to rest in 1991.”
A Scott County jury found Sisco guilty of first-degree murder in 1991. In Iowa, a first-degree murder conviction is punishable by life in prison without the possibility of parole.
An inmate serving life, however, has the right to apply for leniency in the form of a commuted sentence. The parole board investigates and interviews each inmate who applies and makes a recommendation to the governor, who has the sole authority to commute a sentence, Parole board chairman Jason Carlstrom said.
Carlstrom said the board conducts five of these interviews a year and added that a positive recommendation is “very rare.”
Sisco could become eligible for annual parole hearings only if his sentence is commuted, Carlstrom said.
Scott County Attorney Mike Walton wrote a letter to Branstad, which he shared Friday with the Quad-City Times, urging the governor not to commute Sisco’s life sentence.
Walton, who was one of the prosecutors in Sisco’s trial, called the murder of 41-year-old St. Clair “calculated and cold-blooded.”
“The evidence showed she was very likely sleeping in the back of his van” when he shot her, Walton said. “The bullet went straight in her head at close range, indicating he had taken the time to get close to her head with the gun, aim and shoot. He put her in garbage bags and dumped her body. Then he went to a bar in Rock Island. Before he went in, he set his van on fire to destroy the evidence of murder.”
Sisco testified that he accidentally shot St. Clair, according to an Aug. 20, 1991, Quad-City Times news story.
Police said Sisco killed her on April 1, 1991, and left her body in a ditch in rural Muscatine County, where she was found two days later.
“He wrapped her in garbage bags and dumped her like a bag of garbage,” said Wilma Carle-Williamson, St. Clair’s sister. “She wasn’t a bag of garbage. She was the mother of five.”
St. Clair was living with Carle-Williamson in Milan at the time. Sisco, who lived in Rock Island and owned a secondhand shop in town, had been seeing St. Clair off and on for a few years, Carle-Williamson said. St. Clair tended bar at Peaches and Cream across the street from his shop on 3rd Avenue.
Carle-Williamson described Sisco as “controlling.” One year, St. Clair went to Kansas to spend Easter with family and told her sisters not to tell him. Sisco found out anyway and followed her, Carle-Williamson said.
“He’d tell people that if he couldn’t have her, no one could,” she said.
She last saw St. Clair leave with Sisco to go play bingo. Before they left, Sisco sat down to dinner with St. Clair, her sisters and mother, Carle-Williamson said.
Daniels wants to make sure Branstad hears from St. Clair’s family before deciding on whether to commute Sisco’s sentence.
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The family has started a fund to get St. Clair’s adult children to Des Moines for Friday’s hearing. One of her sons lives in Arizona.
According to Daniels, they all are writing letters that they want to read aloud to the parole board, explaining how their mother’s murder has affected their lives.
Daniels, who was 21 when St. Clair was killed, said she became a “total alcoholic” afterward. She turned her life around after deciding she had to be a mother to her siblings, including a brother who was in and out of prison and another who became estranged from the family.
The five children haven’t been together since St. Clair’s funeral. Daniels said she has commitments from four of her siblings to be at the hearing.
As she prepares for the hearing, Carle-Williamson has displayed old photos and news clippings from the time of the murder on her kitchen table along with a family photo showing a beaming St. Clair with her bright red hair. The photo dated 1987 is the last showing St. Clair with her siblings.
Carle-Williamson said she’s “reliving the nightmare.”
She described St. Clair as a “mighty, red-headed bull” who got robbed five times while tending bar. She added the only way her sister could have been killed is in her sleep.
“I fought for justice for my sister 21 years ago,” Carle-Williamson said. “Till my dying last breath, I’ll fight for justice. He does not deserve to walk the street outside those prison walls again.”
Daniels and Carle-Williamson hope Sisco hears from St. Clair’s family Friday. He’s not expected to appear in person but on a TV screen from the Anamosa State Penitentiary.
They’ve waited 21 years to ask him one question: Why?