A New Prague woman has been sentenced to 27 months in Scott County District Court in connection with the 2013 murder of Gary Herbst at Elko New Market.
Connie Lou Herbst, 64, pleaded guilty on February 23 to felony aiding an accomplice offender after the fact in October 2021 as part of a plea deal that dismissed a felony charge of second-degree murder with intention, but not premeditated.
Herbst’s son, Austin James Herbst, 27, pleaded guilty in March 2021 to aiding and abetting second-degree intentional murder for shooting his father while he slept at a home in Elko New Market. He was sentenced to 150 months in June 2021.
Connie Herbst admitted to helping her son hide the body in a wooded rural residence near Barron, Wisconsin.
District Judge Caroline Lennon ordered a temporary waiver of Minnesota sentencing guidelines, which state Herbst’s sentence should be between 41 and 57 months. Herbst was sentenced to 27 months in prison, 18 of which she will serve without further charges in prison.
Lennon also credited Herbst with 462 days for time served, so Herbst could be released from prison in May.
The Scott County District Attorney’s Office was seeking a 57-month sentence, citing the fact that she concealed the murder and showed little remorse.
“The cover-up was particularly egregious because it went on for so many years,” Scott County Deputy Chief Sarah Wendorf said in court Wednesday.
Both Austin and Connie have accused Gary of physical and emotional abuse during the relationship. Wendorf said in court that the abuse did not justify murder or cover-up, calling the idea of retaliation “anarchy”.
Herbst’s defense attorney, John Baquero, of Minneapolis, asked the court for a sentence given or served sentence of 20 months, citing her remorse, her nonviolent past and the fact that she had not committed the murder.
Baquero said in court that Herbst acknowledged her role in the incident but “crossed a line that many parents would cross.”
Lennon told the court that the case was “heartbreaking” and that the abuse Connie and Austin suffered at the hands of Gary was “one of the worst domestic abuses (that she had) seen”.
Judge Lennon cited that Herbst was not involved in the murder himself, was likely on probation, had no prior serious offenses and domestic violence as reasons why the departure was warranted.
According to a criminal complaint:
The remains of Gary Herbst were found in December 2017 in a 15-acre wooded residence in rural Wisconsin, Maple Grove Township, near Barron, after a dog found a skull with a bullet hole and the dropped on its owner’s driveway. Law enforcement discovered more human remains east of the residence, which were taken to the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Ramsey.
The remains went unidentified for over two years until February 2020, when detectives were tipped off by the DNA Doe Project, a non-profit organization that uses genealogical research to identify ‘John and Jane Does’ that the skeletal remains belonged to Gary Herbst, of Elko New Market. .
Investigators learned that Gary Herbst had been missing since July 6, 2013, but a police report was not filed with Elko New Market police until exactly one year later, on July 6, 2014, when Connie Herbst did so at the request of Gary Herbst. brother, who was trying to contact him.
Connie Herbst told police in February 2020 that her husband left home on July 6, 2013 and never returned. She was at the library when her son called her to say his father was gone. She returned home to find her bedroom ransacked and her husband’s clothes, $5,000 in cash, a .45 caliber pistol and his wedding ring all missing. Austin Herbst told investigators his father left in a vehicle driven by an unknown person.
On June 16, Wisconsin officers interviewed Connie and Austin Herbst again. Austin said he did not have a good relationship with his father and said he knew the truth about what happened but would not disclose it at the time.
On June 29, 2020, Scott County deputies and members of the Minnesota BCA Forensic Science Laboratory searched Herbst’s former home, which is now under new owners. The new owners told officers that while renovating the basement in August 2019, they discovered a stain on the concrete floor that seemed unusual. A cadaver dog searched the residence and tests confirmed that human blood had been found in the stain.
That same day, police interviewed former neighbors who said Gary Herbst was “fussy” and frequently yelled profanity at neighbors and called the police for minor issues.
Neighbors reported seeing a van parked near the family’s sliding glass door on the grass in mid-August 2013. A neighbor reported seeing something in the back of a van – possibly rolled up carpet – and saw Connie and Austin Herbst hook a boat up to the back of the truck and drive away for one to three days.
Other neighbors reported seeing the mother and son scrubbing the basement floors through the window.
Connie and Austin Herbst held a garage sale selling mostly men’s clothing and various tools several weeks after Gary Herbst disappeared, neighbors said.
Investigators spoke to Gary Herbst’s former employer, RL Tool in Bloomington, who confirmed the last day Gary Herbst worked was July 8, 2013, after which he stopped reporting to work and did not never heard from again.
Through a search warrant executed on July 9, 2020 for the home of the mother and son, investigators found blood on drywall next to the stain in the basement, on wooden studs, the bottom rail and the area of the sliding glass door leading to the basement and on rubber mats that were previously in the basement.
On July 28, Austin Herbst told investigators in an interview that he and his mother went camping the weekend his father disappeared. When asked about the handgun, Austin Herbst told investigators no one would ever be hurt with the gun because it was safe in “60 feet of water”. He said it was in the “Flambeau Flowage” and he could show investigators its approximate location.
Investigators searched the cell phones of Connie and Austin Herbst. On June 24, Connie Herbst texted her son, “It was on Channel 9 News last night.”
On July 18, she texted her son, “You need to call me ASAP, actually right now.” And then half an hour later, she texted, “Maybe there’s a problem, they’re looking for (the former Herbst family home in Elko New Market). I don’t want to screw up your vacation, I just wanted you to know. It’s in the newspaper.
Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen said the arrests in the cold case were the result of “tremendous multi-agency teamwork” across state lines.