Woman gets 4 years for lying to police in Ringer disappearance

By Bob Dunn

The Berkshire Eagle

Published: 03-25-2019 12:21 AM

PITTSFIELD — Laura Reilly has been sentenced to up to four years in state prison for lying to police investigating the disappearance of Joanne “Jo” Ringer.

Reilly, 44, of Easthampton, left Berkshire Superior Court in shackles Friday after pleading guilty to two counts of misleading police in the days following Ringer’s disappearance on March 2, 2017.

Ringer’s remains were found a year later in a wooded area of Hatfield.Her husband, Charles “Chad” Reidy, was the prime suspect in Ringer’s disappearance and death. He took his own life at their Clarksburg home in early April 2017 before he could be charged.

“I feel relieved in a way, but it’s still going to be really hard to deal with this,” said Ringer’s daughter, Savanah, following Friday’s hearing. “And it’s still really hard that [Reidy] isn’t going to pay for his actions.

“When [the judge] said that she was going to jail, it was like a whole weight was just lifted off my body,” she said. “At least Laura’s in jail and she’s paying.”

Reilly, who over the years had an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with Reidy, was not accused of taking part in Ringer’s slaying. But she twice lied to police about their whereabouts in the days after Ringer went missing.

Defense attorney Jesse Adams asked Judge John Agostini to consider sentencing Reilly to two years of probation, with whatever conditions the court saw fit to impose.

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But First Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Karen Bell argued that prison time was warranted due to the seriousness of the investigation, and that Reilly had full knowledge that Ringer was missing when Reidy asked her to lie to police about the events of March 2 and 3. She asked for a sentence of three to four years in prison.

“This is not a situation where probation is appropriate,” Bell said, calling Adams’ request, “ludicrous.” “This defendant needs to be punished for her actions.”

Bell said Reilly successfully misled police and put them on a wild goose chase, preventing law enforcement from building a case against Reidy and arresting him before he killed himself, denying Ringer’s family and friends the closure and answers they had sought.

She noted the remains that were discovered were skeletal and provided no answers about how Ringer died.

“The judge agreed this was an egregious example of misleading police,” Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington said Friday in a prepared statement. “We sought incarceration because Laura Reilly’s lies not only stymied police in apprehending a murder suspect, they also had a devastating and lasting effect on Joanne Ringer’s family and friends.”

Yearlong ordeal

Ringer, 39, was scheduled to begin her first shift working for an Easthampton cab company on March 2, 2017. She never arrived.

Reidy reported her missing two days later, touching off a wide-ranging investigation.

Police soon learned Reilly had previously been in a relationship with Reidy, and that she may have information relevant to the investigation.

Reilly told police she received a message March 2 from Reidy, who asked her to meet him in Northampton. Reilly said she did that, and the two of them each drove separate vehicles back to Reidy’s home in Clarksburg. However, the investigation, including images culled from surveillance cameras throughout the area, showed that Reilly drove Reidy back to Clarksburg in her car.

Reilly also lied when she told police she did not see Reidy on March 3, when, in fact, she had.

The nearly yearlong search, and lack of closure in the case, deeply affected Ringer’s family and friends, Harrington said.

“If Laura Reilly told the truth about driving Reidy home on the day he reported Ringer missing and spending time with him the day after, police could have questioned Reidy about the killing prior to him committing suicide,” she said. “I offer my condolences to Ms. Ringer’s loved ones, and we hope that this plea and sentence gives them some measure of comfort.”

Ringer’s disappearance sparked an outpouring of support. Family and friends took to social media, organized events, put up posters and circulated hashtags like #JusticeForJo and #BringJoHome to raise awareness of the case.

Adams, the defense attorney, said his client takes full responsibility, and was deeply remorseful for her actions.

He said Reilly’s love for Reidy bordered on reverence and she would do the things he asked almost reflexively with “unthinking devotion.”

Reilly’s devotion to Reidy clouded her judgment, Adams said, and led her to not suspect any wrongdoing from Reidy and compelled her to lie to police on his behalf.

He based his sentence recommendation on Reilly’s lack of record, the fact these were nonviolent crimes and the unique circumstances — it would be the type of crime she would be unlikely to repeat.

Adams disputed the notion that Reilly’s information allowed Reidy to evade police, and he said a sentence of probation would still be a restriction on her liberty in that she would be a convicted felon.

Adams also spoke about the toll the charges and case had taken on Reilly herself, including death threats and public shaming delivered via social media.

Judge Agostini described Reilly’s actions as a thoughtful plan, rather than an off-the-cuff false statement to police, and sentenced her to two to four years in prison.

He said the public itself was a victim in this case to a large degree, because of the large number of people across two counties who were impacted by Ringer’s homicide, all of whom were waiting for word whether or not she would be found and what had happened to her.

“It was not just police that were misled,” he said. “It was all of us.”