Irene Seale Gets 20-year Term In Kidnapping Death Of Reso Her Attorney Argued She Was Abused. The Judge Said That Did Not Justify The Exxon Executive's Treatment.

Posted: January 26, 1993

TRENTON — Her hair cut short, her blue pin stripe suit neatly pressed, her voice almost a whisper, Irene Seale hardly looked like a vicious kidnapper yesterday as she wiped a tear that spilled down her cheek.

As she stood before a courtroom hushed with anticipation, her voice choking with emotion, it was difficult to see this petite 46-year-old woman, a mother of two children, as a conspirator in what authorities have called one of the most monstrous crimes in the state's history - the kidnapping death of Exxon executive Sidney J. Reso.

But almost from the time of her arrest in June, Irene Jacqueline Seale, ''Jackie" to her friends, did not deny the facts, did not hide the grisly, almost unimaginable details. And so yesterday, nearly nine months after Reso was violently abducted, Seale could only try to apologize.

"Of course, this is not enough," she told U.S. District Judge Garrett E. Brown Jr. "But it is all I can do to express my sorrow for the pain I've caused the Reso family."

Moments later, Brown sentenced Seale to 20 years in prison with no chance of parole and ordered her to pay a fine of $500,000.

Later yesterday, Seale was taken before Morris County Superior Court Judge Reginald Stanton and sentenced to 20 years in jail on a state charge in connection with the crime. That term is to run concurrently with her federal prison sentence.

In November, Seale's husband, Arthur, described by authorities as the mastermind of the kidnapping plot, was sentenced to 95 years in prison for his role in the crime.

The sentencings yesterday effectively brought an end to the Reso kidnapping case, a saga that federal law enforcement authorities have called one of the most wrenching and heartbreaking crimes they have ever investigated.

Reso, 57, the president of Exxon Corp.'s international division and father of four, was grabbed at the foot of his driveway at his home in suburban Morris Township as he headed for work April 29. Reso's teeth were knocked out and he was shot in the arm and shoved inside a cramped wooden box, his hands bound behind his back, his eyes and mouth taped shut with duct tape.

The box, with Reso inside, was then taken to a hot, poorly ventilated storage vault rented by the Seales several miles from their home in Lebanon Township, N.J.

Reso, described as a religious family man who was well-liked by neighbors and co-workers, died four days later in what investigators said was an agonizingly slow death. His body was found in a shallow grave in South Jersey's Pine Barrens eight weeks later.

Irene Seale faced a maximum sentence of 40 years for her role in the crime. But prosecutors, citing her help and cooperation in the investigation, and her willingness to testify against her husband, recommended a sentence of 20 years.

In a letter she read in court yesterday, Seale appeared to be trying to convince Judge Brown and the reporters, court employees and other spectators who packed the courtroom that she was not a monster.

She said she had always worked hard and took pride in providing her children nutritious meals as well as a "clean and organized" house.

And she told the court she was an honest and decent person - and "as unbelievable as that may appear under the circumstances, I've always been that."

Seale's attorney, Sallyanne Floria, asked for leniency. Floria argued that Irene Seale was her husband's dupe, a woman numbed and unable to think clearly for herself after nearly 26 years of what Irene Seale has alleged was physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

In this so-called battered-woman defense, it was Arthur Seale who was the ''driving force" behind the crime. Irene Seale, her self-esteem depleted by years of beatings, chokings and other abuse, played only a minor role, Floria said.

Brown did not buy any of it.

Even if Irene Seale was abused as much as she said, it would not justify kidnapping an innocent man and treating him the way they did, Brown said.

The judge described how she helped her husband build the coffin-like box, how she planned the surveillance of Reso and his home and participated in the actual kidnapping. Wearing a ski mask and gloves, Irene Seale drove the van, blocking Reso's driveway as he stopped his car to retrieve the morning newspaper, Brown said. She placed ransom notes, tape-recorded messages, and made demands for $18.5 million from Exxon - even after Reso had died in the box.

"It is clear to me that she was a full participant in the crime," the judge said.

Irene Seale did not blink as Brown reread facts she had admitted. As she awaited her sentence, she asked permission to read the letter she had written to Brown.

"How do I begin to describe the kinds of emotions that I feel," she began, her voice faint and quavering.

For the next few minutes, Seale tried to explain what had happened, how strongly she was under the influence of her husband, and how she realized that testifying against her husband was "the only moral thing to do."

She told Brown how sorry she was for the Reso family, and how they "can never be the same."

And she sobbed openly when she mentioned her own two children, how they are going through therapy and how she hopes they would one day "understand, and therefore be set free from their demons."

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