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Woman is freed after 26 years in prison for the 1982 murder of her husband

One night 28 years ago, Jacqueline Stangherlin lured her husband to a furniture shop where a hit man waited with a tire iron. Roman Stangherlin took several blows to the head and began crying "Oh my God, Oh my God."

The hit man, a 21-year-old cook at a seafood restaurant, lost his nerve. So Jackie took over, clubbing her husband with a radio, then strangling him with the cord.

When the job was done, she exclaimed, "The bastard is dead."

She went to trial, was convicted and sentenced to a 300-year prison term in one of the most notorious and intriguing crimes in Hernando and Pasco County history.

But in November, after serving 26 of those 300 years, Jacqueline Stangherlin walked free.

According to the Florida Parole Commission, her sentence was commuted to 75 years in 2006 and she became eligible for parole.

Now 76, she lives with her son in a tidy house facing a retention pond in Port Richey. She did not respond to a request for an interview.

• • •

Born in northern Italy, Roman Stangherlin entered the Catholic priesthood in 1962. Ten years later, he set aside his religious calling and married Jacqueline Frank, a mother of seven children.

They ran Gulf Coast Realty and Gulf View Travel in New Port Richey. Trouble surfaced when Mrs. Stangherlin suspected her husband of having an affair with a younger woman. When he asked her for a divorce in March of 1982, he told his attorney, she twice threatened him with a gun.

He sought a restraining order from the courts, and a day later, he went missing.

Jacqueline Stangherlin was arrested before her husband's body was found stuffed into a sleeping bag in a shallow grave on private property in Shady Hills. Authorities said she had enlisted the help of several conspirators, and one of them talked.

Anthony Colandro, who had lived near the Stangherlins in New Port Richey, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder soon after the killing and got a 15-year-prison sentence.

In exchange, he told this story: Jacqueline had paid him $4,000 to kill her husband. They waited for him at the Sleep n' Sit Shoppe on U.S. 19 near Weeki Wachee; she hid in a closet. When Roman arrived, Colandro attacked him with the tire iron but he got spooked by the blood and the 42-year-old man's terrified pleas. Colandro said Jacqueline finished him off.

William Powlowski, then 39, owned the Sleep n' Sit Shoppe. He was arrested alongside Mrs. Stangherlin, having received $6,500 from her for his help arranging the murder and burying the body.

Authorities searched for weeks for Roman's body. Almost two months after the murder, a school janitor came forward. Stanley Modzelewski said he had taken $500 from Mrs. Stangherlin and a promise that she would buy his Shady Hills land in exchange for disposing of the body. Modzelewski was granted immunity from prosecution after leading detectives to the grave.

Another witness, a man whom Mrs. Stangherlin hired to be her bodyguard, told authorities she confessed the murder to him, bit by bit, over several weeks.

Richard Zartman, in a 1982 deposition, offered this: "She said, 'Men are weak without women. They are worms. The bastard deserved to die.' She said she grabbed a … cord and finished him off."

• • •

The trial took place over four weeks in January and February of 1983. It was moved to Tavares, in Lake County, because of heavy publicity. The state was seeking the death penalty against both Mrs. Stangherlin and Powlowski.

But the jury found them guilty not of first-degree, premeditated murder but of the lesser crimes of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder.

Powlowski was given a life sentence and paroled in 1994. He is 67 now and lives in Ocala, records show.

Three state parole commissioners voted unanimously last October to parole Jacqueline Stangherlin. They did not publicly say what factors went into her release, but those typically include a demonstration of productivity and involvement in prison and no disciplinary problems. An inmate's age can be considered too. Mrs. Stangherlin will be under community supervision until 2019.

Among the jobs she held during her nearly three decades in prison, Mrs. Stangherlin was a housekeeper, education aide and chapel worker, according to the Department of Corrections.

A Web site for the Full Gospel Evangelistic Association names, in its list of Florida members, a Chaplain Jacqueline Stangherlin.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Woman is freed after 26 years in prison for the 1982 murder of her husband 01/09/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 9, 2010 1:35pm]
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