George Hartwig gets 30 years for shooting sister-in-law in the face: DV Justice at last

BettyJean Downing- Kling

ON behalf of my daughters and their sons – I ask interested persons send letters to the Judge thanking her for her sentencing in the following case. Judge DeAvila-Silebi handed down a most fair sentence citing Domestic Violence statistics as her major consideration in making her final decision along with the testimony and guilty pleas of the defendant. It is apparent, this jurist sentenced George Hartwig to the full extent of the law within the bounds of the law, and she is to be commended for her careful, honest and thoughtful consideration of domestic violence and taking brutal offenders off the streets and refusing to fall for the defendants and his attorney’s arguments of mitigating circumstances. This Judge knows her business and we certainly need more of her on the bench all across this nation!

The Honorable Liliana S. DeAvila-Silebi
Bergen County Justice Court
10 Main Street Hackensack,
New Jersey 07601

Lodi man gets 30 years for shooting sister-in-law in the face

March 23, 2012    Last updated: Friday March 23, 2012, 6:13 PM


A Lodi man’s lengthy history of domestic violence culminated in a 30-year prison term on Friday after he was sentenced for shooting his sister-in-law in the face with a shotgun, leaving her severely brain-damaged and wheelchair-bound for life.


George Hartwig pleads guilty in 2011.

“I sincerely apologize for my actions,” George Hartwig said in Superior Court in Hackensack.

Hartwig at one point glanced at Louisa Rodas, who was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair. Unable to speak or walk, she seemed to react at times with what sounded like sobs during the emotionally charged hearing.

Hartwig shook his head and looked away.

“She was very sisterly toward me,” he said. “She was genuine and unbiased toward me.”

Hartwig admitted in court in November that he shot Rodas because he mistook her for his mother-in-law.

Ten days before Christmas of 2008, Hartwig went to a Lodi home where his wife, Denise Richardson, lived with family members, he said. There, he got into an argument with his mother-in-law, Betty Jean Kling, he said. Hartwig said in one letter that Kling was “vicious and nasty” to him, and that her words “ate me up all day.”

He went back to his home, where he began drinking and taking prescription medication, he said. He then went back to his wife’s home with a loaded shotgun, where he shot Rodas, he said.

When Rodas’ brother and son, Thomas and Mark Richardson, arrived at the home to help, Hartwig aimed the gun at the brother and pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed, he said. The Richardsons then subdued him.

Kling offered more details of the incident as she spoke in court on Friday. She said Hartwig came to their home that day and said he wanted the receipt for a mattress he had bought.

Hartwig’s wife was sick with cancer at the time, but that did not stop him from dragging her around the house, demanding the receipt, she said.

The mother then intervened and threw Hartwig out of the house, she said.

Thomas Kearney, an assistant Bergen County prosecutor, said that six months before the shooting, Hartwig beat his ailing wife with a hammer and “split her head open.”

“She [Kling] had every right to be vicious and nasty when he returned to their house,” Kearney said.

Kling said Hartwig was cruel to his wife of 23 years, and often beat her as he demanded the painkillers she was taking for her cancer.

“But for reasons a mother cannot understand, she kept going back to him,” Kling said.

Denise Richardson died of ovarian cancer in March 2009, Kling said.

Kling was also quick to notice that Hartwig’s apology was limited to Rodas, and that he showed no remorse towards Kling.

“He would have killed me, and he wouldn’t be sorry about that,” Kling said.

Kling tearfully described how Rodas is now at the Bergen Regional Medical Center, where she needs 24-hour care.

“For all intents and purposes, her life has been taken from her,” she said.

Victim Louisa Rodas gets comforted by her mother Betty Jean Kling at Hackensack Court. George Hartwig admitted in court in November that he shot Louisa Rodas in a drunken rage, having mistaken her for his mother-in-law, with whom he had fought earlier. Hartwig was given the maximum sentence on all counts.

Victim Louisa Rodas gets comforted by her mother Betty Jean Kling at Hackensack Court. George Hartwig admitted in court in November that he shot Louisa Rodas in a drunken rage, having mistaken her for his mother-in-law, with whom he had fought earlier. Hartwig was given the maximum sentence on all counts.

Kearney added the shotgun blast blew off half of Rodas’ face, severely damaging the right side of her brain. She lost her right eye, and needs feeding tubes to eat, he said.

Defense attorney Brian Neary asked for a lesser sentence, saying that Hartwig was under the influence at the time of the shooting. He also said that Hartwig was himself a victim of domestic violence because he grew up with an abusive father.

Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi was not moved.

“Let’s call it for what it is: You killed her,” she said to Hartwig.

Hartwig, 43, was sentenced to a 20-year term for the attempted murder of Rodas, and a consecutive 10-year term for the attempted murder of Rodas’ brother, Thomas Richardson. He must serve nearly 26 years before he can be considered for parole.

DeAvila-Silebi also imposed a $100,000 fine and said she will hold a hearing on whether Hartwig, who may have received a settlement from a worker’s compensation claim, can make the payment.

9 Responses

  1. I love you Betty Jean! I will write the judge a thank you letter.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments and for all the online support we have had over the past 3 years. Our work is not over- we have to be grateful for what we have – the perpetrator was sentenced to the full extent of the law. We need to thank the judge and we must get to work on Violence against women and children reform so that appropriate sentencing is available to be meted out!

      I would like to explain why I am satisfied with the sentence and why I am thanking the judge. Unfortunately, DV laws are weak; judge’s sentences are often weaker here and across the nation. Usually minimum sentences are given and they are served concurrently and rarely do you hear a judge cite DV statistics. This case was so different – it was as they should be and a prime example for every case.

      I am working hard and would ask that you and others join me in my efforts to pass Louisa’s law will strengthen DV laws so that judges like Liliana S. DeAvila-Silebi have a case to hand down harsher sentence- right now they can only sentence based on the laws and sentences for what is on the books. This judge gave him all that she could and she told him why! If we want more we will have to make specific laws to give judges the ability to sentence under. I need your help to do that. To join us in this effort email me and put Louisa’s Law in the subject- we need and can accept donations under 501 c3 at Please get involved.

      “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand: there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend; some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.” –Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

      J. R. R. Tolkien has the talent for putting thoughts into words that I, as her representative and that of her children cannot. How could I possibly put into words our journey and all the events that brought us to where we are today? These past three years, I have asked myself, “What does the human spirit need in order to heal and move on?” I have settled on the following, we need a safe place to share our pain and be acknowledged, we need compassion, and need to know that we and others will be protected from the perpetrator, we need accountability — someone who will hold the perpetrator accountable, we need restitution for the losses incurred by the victim, and we need justice (not revenge) but vindication — to be set free. Scars remain, but healing is sufficient so as not to continue to be held in bondage to the trauma.

      Again thank you. I want you to know that we worked tirelessly to write this judge and she received no less than 300 letters from all over the country and several other countries as well urging her to do the right thing. See some of the letters here:…..or-louisa/

      I bring this up to show that the old adage “it’s the squeaky door that gets oiled” still stands true. If you do a search you will find that we never lead up from 12/15/08 until present. No stone was left unturned and believe me- when it seemed as if no one was on our side and no help was forthcoming we never gave up prodding, begging, asking and annoying everyone we knew and those we never knew. We saturated the net, we sunk to the low of showing my poor baby in her despicable condition and I pleaded asking “what if this was your daughter?”

      If that is what it takes – then do it and never be dismayed because shamefully, women have given up far too easily at the first few closed doors- I am here to tell you – it takes TENACITY!

      Only three women showed up in court by our side yesterday and the courtroom should have been full. What message did that send? It told me that my fight and struggle was worth it and yet so many women missed the opportunity to see DV justice which to date has been so damned rare.

      Are we so used to failure that we have given up?

      I stand here to urge my sisters to never give up- never give out and never let them see us sweat! Today we have won one small step for womankind BUT- we can’t give up here- we need to move forward.

      Join Louisa and me as we ask for more victories and Justice for all women everywhere!

  2. Oh my gosh, you brought Louisa, that is amazing.

  3. (((((BettyJean & Louisa))))))

    Thank God, he heard our prayers and this monster can’t get out till he is 69 years old.

    Give Louisa kisses for me.


  4. BJ
    GREAT Photo!!

    Do you have a fax number for the judge??

  5. Your hard work paid off. I wrote a blog post regarding my thoughts about your case and the issue of being a survivor:

  6. […] Denise and Louisa’s mother, BettyJean Downing- Kling, maintains a website, and posted the following on her blog, George Hartwig gets 30 years for shooting sister-in-law in the face: […]

  7. There really are no words to express bright colored emotions in black and white so I will just say all the familiar sayings that come to mind..a mothers love, a woman’s courage and yes Tenacity enabled Lousia to find justice. This is far from over because what began as a journey for justice for Louisa has just begun. I am beside you for what ever it takes to see Louisa’s law to fruition.
    I am so deeply proud of you and honored to call you my sister.
    You and Louisa are as always in my prayer.
    You are loved always

  8. […] Update: George Hartwig gets 30 years for shooting sister-in-law in the face: DV Justice at last […]

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