"48 Hours:" International search for justice in military pilot's slaying

Last Updated Nov 25, 2017 11:27 PM EST

Erin Moriarty is a "48 Hours" correspondent. Here, she weighs in on the murder of a decorated military pilot and the push to extradite his accused killer from Brazil. Her investigation, "A Brother's Mission," aired Saturday  on CBS.

Karl Hoerig was the kind of man movies are made of -- the real life fearless military hero that actors like John Wayne or Tom Cruise have played over and over again on the silver screen. 

Sadly, the way Karl died on March 12, 2007 also seems like something only a screenwriter could imagine. Karl was shot in his own home while he was preparing to walk out on his wife of two years, Claudia Sobral. One month later, she was charged with his murder, but has never gone on trial. 

It's not for lack of evidence; it's because Claudia, who was born in Brazil, fled there within 24 hours of her husband's death and, until now, Brazil has refused to extradite her. That could soon change, thanks to the efforts of Karl's family, friends and U.S. officials who have been lobbying for more than a decade to get Claudia Hoerig back in the States to stand trial. 

A little history: Karl Hoerig, an Air Force Reserve pilot living in Newton Falls, Ohio, was a divorced father of two when he met Claudia Sobral on an internet dating site. Claudia was also divorced and was living in New York. The accountant and English teacher had moved to the U.S. from Brazil in 1989 and had become an American citizen ten years later. 

Karl and Claudia were married in 2005, but almost from the beginning, the relationship was troubled. As Gary Dodge, one of Karl's close friends, described it: " I think she wanted Karl for herself…you know, she didn't want that type of relationship with our wives or our girlfriends. She wanted Karl." 

Karl, who also flew for Southwest Airlines, traveled frequently, leaving Claudia alone for long periods in their home in rural Ohio. In early 2007, Claudia Hoerig's behavior became increasingly erratic. She summoned the Hoerig family to what she called "an emergency meeting" to discuss the couple's marriage. 

Karl's younger brother Paul says the family was perplexed by Claudia's complaints. She said that Karl "wanted her to help out with the house cleaning and the cooking," Paul remembers, "and we were like 'Well, that's just part of being an adult.' And Karl was just sitting there…just shakin' his head in disbelief.'" 

Then, a month before the shooting, Claudia was in a single car accident. According to court records, she was driving under the influence. In early March, Karl Hoerig had enough and told friends and his ex-wife that he planned to leave Claudia and move into a small rented home nearby the couple's home. 

In the early morning hours of March 12, 2007, Claudia Hoerig emailed a letter, addressed to Karl, to one of his friends. She wrote,"you made me promises that no matter what, there would be no divorce in this relationship…I'm a good woman, Karl. Do not do me wrong, please." 

That same day, Karl Hoerig disappeared. 

Two days later, when he didn't show up for a flight, his friends became concerned and called the police. Karl Hoerig was found in his home, shot twice in the back, once in the head. Claudia and his car were missing. 

Investigators soon discovered that Claudia had used her husband's Southwest Airlines flight pass to fly to Brazil. They also learned that two days before the shooting, Claudia had purchased a .357 revolver and went to a shooting range to practice. That gun was found in the couple's home and is believed to be the murder weapon. 

The purchase of the alleged murder weapon and her flight to Brazil makes Claudia the prime suspect, but Brazilian authorities refused to turn her over to the U.S. because of a clause in the country's constitution that prohibits extradition of Brazilian-born citizens. Trying Claudia for murder in Brazil is an option, but Trumbull County, Ohio Prosecuting Attorney Dennis Watkins has refused to turn over the case. 

"The case is going to be tried in the United States of America…The crime was committed here. All the witnesses are here. The prosecution is here. She's the one that left. She's the one that should come back," Watkins said. 

Watkins, who has written over 500 letters over the past decade to press for Claudia Hoerig's return, argues that Brazilian law shouldn't protect her. When she became an American citizen in 1999, she signed an oath to renounce "all allegiance" to any foreign state or sovereignty of which she had been a citizen. 

What's more, she even signed a document referring to Brazil as "country of former nationality". That argument resonated with the Brazilian courts. In 2013, The Ministry of Justice stripped Claudia of her Brazilian citizenship, and earlier this month, the Brazilian Supreme Court, which had affirmed that decision, closed the case. 

The fate of Claudia Hoerig is now in the hands of one man, the President of Brazil, Michel Temer, who will have to issue the order to put her on a plane back to the United States. 

Prosecutor Watkins says he is now "cautiously optimistic" and hopes to see Claudia Hoerig on trial in a Trumbull County courthouse next year.  

  • Erin Moriarty

    Correspondent, "48 Hours"