Russell Bertram, 64, police chief in Harrisburg was found to have fatally shot his pregnant fiancée out of jealousy, in 2009
Bertram collected $920,000 in insurance benefits after he murdered 26-year-old Leonila Stickney, the policy was taken out a few months before Stickney’s death in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
In finding him guilty of first-degree murder, jurors ruled jealousy was a factor in the killing because Bertram had undergone a vasectomy and knew the child Stickney was expecting couldn’t be his.
He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, Tuesday
After Leonila’s death, Bertram married her sister, Melliza Del Balle, who filed for divorce after Bertram’s arrest
Russell Bertram sentenced to life in prison without parole in the 2009 slaying of his pregnant fiancée
A former Harrisburg, South Dakota police chief has been given a life in prison without parole in the 2009 slaying of his pregnant fiancée.
Russell Bertram, 64, the one-time top cop in Harrisburg, was found to have fatally shot his pregnant fiancée out of jealousy and to collect $900,000 in insurance benefits. A jury in Burke had found him guilty of first-degree on Sept. 26 after a two-week jury trial in Burke, and he was sentenced to life, Tuesday.
He was convicted of killing 26-year-old Leonila Stickney, of Bridgewater, Souix Falls, during a hunting trip near Gregory, on Oct. 24, 2009,
According to the court papers, Stickney pregnant by another man, prosecutors said jealousy was one of Bertram’s motives for murder.
Bertram, then 57, had told authorities that he was putting his shotgun away after a hunting trip when the weapon fired accidentally, striking Stickney in the abdomen and investigators initially ruled her death an accident.
That is, until Leonila’s estranged husband, David Stickney, asked the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office to reopen the case during a legal suit surrounding $920,000 in life insurance policies, which named Bertram as the beneficiary and were taken out a few months before Leonila’s death.
Russell Bertram had undergone a vasectomy and knew the child his pregnant fiancée was expecting couldn’t be his
David Stickney received a letter from a life insurance company that was processing a claim from Bertram. David Stickney contacted authorities after getting the letter, setting in motion an investigation that led to a murder charge. Bertram, a former Colome police officer and Harrisburg police chief, was then charged with murder in December 2015.
Prosecutors argued that jealousy was a factor in the killing because Bertram had undergone a vasectomy and knew the child Stickney was expecting couldn’t be his.
Speaking with the Republic, Assistant Attorney General Paul Swedlund said the police chief-turned-construction worker saw himself as being above the law: “He was an officer of the law, and his badge became a shield,” Swedlund said.
“It’s no surprise he developed a sense of impunity that led him to believe he could commit and get away with murder.”
Swedlund cited that the thrice married Bertram’s ex-wives, saying he was jealous and abusive to each of them, and used his status as a police officer to show he was above the law.
After Leonila Stickney’s death, Bertram married her sister, Melliza Del Balle. The marriage collapsed after his arrest, and she filed for divorce citing “extreme cruelty.”
“Justice prevailed, but I’m also saddened to find out that my ex-husband is responsible for her death,” Del Balle said.