48 Hours on ID are in Michigan to investigate an ongoing case that involves the death of Todd Stermer, who was killed in bizarre circumstances when he was run over by his wife, Linda Stermer, having just escaped a house fire.
Linda claims it was a tragic accident, but many investigators think it was murder. Linda has been arrested, convicted, and rereleased. 48 Hours seek to get to the truth of the matter.
On January 2, 2007, Linda and Todd Stermer were in their home in a rural area just outside Kalamazoo, Michigan, when a fire erupted in their living room.
Linda claimed that she ran out of the house, thinking that her husband would be close behind her. However, when he failed to materialize, she decided to go for help by driving a van to a neighbors house. But as she drove away, she ran the vehicle over her husband just as he escaped from the burning house.
When the paramedics arrived at the scene, they battled to save Todd’s life, but he ultimately succumbed to his injuries. Linda told the police it was a tragic accident, but they didn’t believe her.
In June 2009, the police determined they had enough evidence to charge Linda with arson and murder. She protested her innocence, but even her own sons began to suspect her of murder after a while.
“Our mother murdered our father,” said son Trevor Stermer. “She set the house on fire, doused him in gasoline, then after the fact when he managed to get out of the house, she ran him over with her van.”
In 2010, Linda was convicted of murder by the Van Buren County Circuit Court and was sentenced to life in prison.
Linda Stermer’s conviction was overturned
However, she only spent eight years behind bars before a federal judge overturned her conviction and ordered that she be released. She had previously appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court but had been repeatedly denied a retrial.
A federal judge eventually ruled in her favor by agreeing with Linda that her defense attorney had let her down by not requesting an expert firefighter to testify on her behalf.
48 Hours spoke to veteran fire investigator Robert Trenkle, who has argued that there was not enough evidence to prove that Linda had deliberately started the fire. Trenkle also believes that the prosecution’s theory that Todd had been doused in gasoline but still managed to escape the fire was improbable.
“I’ve asked probably 30 or 40 people who are firefighters, investigators,” he explained. “They all laughed when I told them about somebody getting out of a building after they … had gasoline poured all over them.”
The federal judge also argued that the prosecution had relied on asserting that Linda was a liar and a “diabolical schemer” but had failed to back up these assertions with proper facts.
The Michigan Attorney General’s office has decided to retry Linda Stermer at the Van Buren County Court, and they hope the trial will begin at some point before the end of this year.
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48 Hours on ID airs at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.