CF woman pleads guilty in 'murder-for-hire' case

Chris Vetter, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.
·2 min read

Mar. 2—CHIPPEWA FALLS — A Chippewa Falls woman accused in a "murder-for-hire" scheme in September 2019 pleaded guilty Tuesday, a week before her trial was slated to begin.

Melanie S. Schrader, 49, 438 Olive St., was convicted of solicitation of first-degree intentional homicide in Chippewa County Court. She was originally charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree intentional homicide, which carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison and 20 years of extended supervision.

Judge Steve Gibbs set a sentencing date for April 20. Defense attorney Michael Cohen recommended that a half-day be set aside so Gibbs can hear from a number of people who would like to testify on Schrader's behalf. Gibbs ordered that any written statements must be submitted to him by April 9.

Both sides will be free to argue the length of the sentence.

Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell said he is not asking for a pre-sentence investigation because the victim is an employee of the Department of Corrections, and he didn't want any appearance of a conflict of interest.

Schrader remains incarcerated in the Chippewa County Jail on a $250,000 cash bond; her previous request for a lower bond level was rejected.

According to the criminal complaint and police reports, Schrader repeatedly asked a friend to set up a meeting with a person who would shoot and kill Derek Gerke, the father of their child, in exchange for $10,000. She met in person with an individual — who was actually an undercover agent from the state Department of Criminal Investigation — and brought a down payment and pictures of Gerke, so the hit man would know who she wanted to be killed. She was arrested Sept. 12, 2019. She waived her preliminary hearing June 4, 2020, and she entered a not guilty plea at a hearing July 29, 2020.

Her original defense attorney, Francesco Balistrieri, sought a lower cash bond last fall, saying Schrader has been taking her court-ordered prescription medication, and she is showing improvement. She also has two children, family in the area, and ties to the community, he argued.

However, Newell said Schrader had repeatedly asked to hire a hit man, and "this wasn't a spur-of-the-moment thing."

The Department of Criminal Investigation assisted the Chippewa County Sheriff's Office and the Chippewa Falls Police Department in handling the case.