NEW ENGLAND — A woman serving life in prison for a 1990 murder of a Dickinson woman died this week at the New England women’s prison, just days after she was denied parole.
Jayta (Christopher) Schmidt, 52, was found unresponsive on Tuesday at the minimum-security Dakota Women’s Correctional and Rehabilitation Center, where she was an inmate.
Schmidt was convicted in 1991 of murdering Dickinson resident Cindy Owen on Feb. 7, 1990. She was serving life in prison and had twice been denied parole, according to court records. The state Parole Board denied her most recent request on Sunday and deferred her next hearing parole until 2031, according to board records.
The North Dakota Highway Patrol stated in a news release that after Schmidt was found, she was airlifted to Bismarck and was pronounced dead at CHI St. Alexius Health. The case remains under investigation by the Highway Patrol, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the State Medical Examiner’s Office. The Hettinger County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the case.
Sgt. Chris Messer of the Highway Patrol, an investigator on the case, said he could not confirm how Schmidt died.
Schmidt was 26 years old when she killed Owen, 30, by shooting her three times in the abdominal area with a .44-caliber Ruger magnum, according to court documents.
The murder happened in Owen’s 1979 Plymouth sedan near what then known as Johnston’s Inc., a beverage distributor on 23rd Avenue East. Schmidt then took the car and headed west on Interstate 94 before she was arrested in Golden Valley County.
Owen was once the girlfriend of Schmidt’s brother, William Sandoval.
Her trial and hearings — highlighted by Schmidt’s attitude and the threat of a media blackout — lasted much of 1990 and drew large media attention in western North Dakota leading up to her conviction.