Dear Judge Dwyer,
I am Mary Yoder's sister; Mary and I were the closest in age of eight children, and we were childhood companions, we shared a childhood bedroom, roamed the fields together, went off to college together, raised our sons together. Throughout my life, Mary was my best friend, my maid of honor, and in the years before her death we spent a lot of time together in artistic pursuits. She was a source of joy and love and support that was so beautiful I am at a loss for words to describe her. I'm not saying I was her best friend, she had many people she loved and who loved her, i’m only saying she was mine ...but she made me feel like I was hers.
You have heard the testimony of others, so you have some idea that Mary was a beautiful person. I was there in Buffalo when she met Bill Yoder, ten years her senior. I watched her fall in love; I watched him insensitive to her feelings, manipulative of her kind nature, deceptive in his actions, and eventually finding her useful. Throughout their life Mary was his main asset, she was the real deal, the unconditionally loving and spiritual person that Bill pretended to be. Attached to Mary, Bill the charlatan was believable. These are not the words of a personal vendetta, although I do grieve that I didn't speak my truth. The fact is I learned very early on that she would not allow, or be allowed to have communication with me if I didn't accept and support their marriage.
I know the world at large didn't see what was behind the curtain, and I watched for almost forty years while Mary struggled to raise her children to be happy, but Bill was deeply self-serving and it is hard to describe how cleverly he wields mental and emotional cruelty disguised as concern. Ultimately, Adam didn't really emotionally survive. Tamaryn escaped for a long while, she left home and refused contact with her parents. Mary talked with me about how although that hurt her, that she was "proud of Tamaryn for finding the courage and sense of self to get out" ... those were my sister's words: "to get out" ... God help me for not paying more attention to what that meant. Proudly I can say that he never broke Mary, through all troubles she was devoted to her adult children, and found joy in life because she would never do otherwise. Even in hindsight, this unspeakable outcome was not foreseeable.
Overall I have always had faith in the legal process even if, oftentimes, one side will feel justice hasn't been served. All I ask is that you consider those of us in Mary's family who believe Kaitlyn Conley is innocent, and who now endure a renewed cycle of mourning. Kaitlyn Conley is a beautiful young woman, very much like Mary, also too naive and malleable. My sister loved her as a daughter, concerned for her in the relationship with Adam, and I know this because Mary told me so in many conversations. I have no doubt that Kaitlyn loved her and would never hurt her.
I don't understand how the investigation turned so completely to Katie; I was in the courtroom and while the forensics were presented as damning, I could see Bill and Adam's footprint all over this. I watched both of them perjure themselves answer after answer in ways you couldn't have known. Did they have the technical knowledge and cunning to frame Katie?... most definitely. Were they the kind of people who would save themselves by framing this young woman? ... most definitely. If at any time our behavior in your courtroom was inappropriate or disruptive, please understand that we were unfamiliar with court, and at almost any point in the proceedings we were in deep grief and disbelief.
I don't know what you believe about this case, and I have no idea what it is like to bear the kind of responsibility that you do. But I am pleading with you from my whole heart and being to extend leniency to Kaitlyn in sentencing. Mourning the murder of Mary has become so much larger a nightmare compounded by this conviction. So many good lives will be on hold until Katie is a free woman again. My heart is equally broken for Mary's son and daughters ... and I fear for my sister Kathy's fate.
Kaitlyn is from a loving, supportive family, I don't believe she did this, she is a good girl. I hope and pray that you will extend mercy, if not for her sake, for the sake of healing all of us whose Mary's death has devastated