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Former police chief Russell Bertram convicted of killing young, pregnant fiancee

BURKE, S.D. -- A jury on Monday found a former South Dakota police chief guilty of first degree murder in the death of his pregnant fiancee in 2009.

Prosecutors accused Russell Bertram, 64, of killing 26-year-old Leonila Stickney to collect more than $900,000 insurance money. They also said jealousy was a factor because Bertram had undergone a vasectomy and knew the child couldn’t be his.

A Gregory County jury returned the guilty verdict.

Bertram, who had served as police chief in Harrisburg, South Dakota, was not charged until late last year.

The Division of Criminal Investigation took over the investigation as a cold case in 2010, reports CBS Sioux Falls, South Dakota affiliate KELO-TV.

The victim’s estranged husband, David Stickney, received a letter after her death from a life insurance company that was processing a claim from Bertram. He then contacted the South Dakota attorney general’s office criminal division, setting in motion an investigation that led to a murder charge last fall.

Bertram said he was putting his shotgun into his truck after a hunting trip in Gregory County when the weapon fired accidentally, striking Stickney in the abdomen.

Bertram’s defense team argued the case had nothing to do with jealousy and that the insurance policy was Stickney’s idea to provide for her family in the Philippines if anything happened to her.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley and Gregory county States Attorney Amy Bartling praised the verdict.

“Bertram’s callous disregard for Leonila and his failure to show any sorrow or remorse are evident and unfortunate,” they said in a statement after the verdict was announced.

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