This article originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on Feb. 6, 2015.
It’s just after dinnertime, and Heather Mack is behaving like a typical teenager — texting and chatting on her mobile phone.
From her Bali jail cell.
“It’s a little bit different here than American prison,” the accused murderer says, almost apologetically, during a conversation with the Chicago Sun-Times Thursday.
To a case awash in surreal details, add one more: to talk to the Sun-Times, Mack is using the video chat service Skype — something unthinkable in an American prison.
But Mack — eight months pregnant and on trial for her Chicago socialite mother’s murder — sees nothing dreamlike about her possible fate: death by firing squad.
“I’m petrified,” she says. “I’m eight months pregnant. I’m more than petrified. I fear for Stella, my [unborn] daughter, more than myself.”
The highly publicized execution last month in Indonesia of six convicted drug traffickers can’t have escaped Mack’s attention. But it’s the expected upcoming execution of Australian Andrew Chan — someone she’s met while behind bars — that has Mack particularly unnerved.
“The firing squad is very real,” she says. “They just don’t put it in the paper to make a story. They do kill people.”
Mack comes across as thoughtful — at times careful — as she talks about her concerns and life in Kerobokan prison, a place she’s told attorneys she finds unrelentingly humid. She leaves the prison once a month for prenatal checks at a local hospital, one of her attorneys told the Sun-Times Thursday.
Mack told the Sun-Times she is close to finding a new Chicago-area attorney, saying she has fired the three others who have worked on her case. She expressed faith in her local attorney in Indonesia and has permission to use her trust fund to pay his fees; a Cook County judge approved three weekly payments of $50,000; the Indonesian attorney has received the first of these, according to Mack.
As Mack speaks, the noisy jabber of other inmates occasionally flares and then fades in the background.
At one point, the lights go out — briefly.
“Holy mother of God, the power just went out,” she says, an exclamation made with stereotypical teen inflection. “Oh my God.”
When Mack is asked about the charges against her, she says succinctly, “I believe my lawyer will prove me innocent.”
Mack and boyfriend Tommy Schaefer are charged in the premeditated murder of Mack’s mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack, 62, last August. Police in Bali have said Schaefer, who attended Oak Park-River Forest High School with Mack, confessed to the killing, according to media reports, but Mack said Thursday that’s not the case.
“He’s not confessed to the killing,” Mack said. “He’s confessed to having an altercation with her. He’s not confessed to killing or murdering her whatsoever.”
When she thinks about her mother, what comes to mind?
She described her relationship with her mother as “complex,” referring to the 86 times police were called to the family home in Oak Park during a 10-year span, responding to disputes between mother and daughter.
“I think about her a lot, and I miss her every day,” Mack said. “And I love her.”
Contributing: George Slefo, Mitch Dudek