MEG KINNARD Associated Press Writer GREENVILLE, S.C.
Relatives of a missing South Carolina woman said Monday they once hoped the woman accused of stealing Brooke Henson's identity also knew her fate, but now they just want to see the suspect punished. Esther Reed, of Townsend, Mont., is accused of stealing Henson's identity in 2003 and posing as the missing woman to obtain false identification documents, take a high school equivalency test and get into one of the nation's top universities. Reed was indicted last year and made her first court appearance Monday on federal charges of identity theft, mail and wire fraud, and obtaining false identification documents. A magistrate entered a plea of not guilty to all the charges. "It was pretty disgusting to see her," Lisa Henson said about seeing the woman accused of stealing her niece's identity. "She didn't have a look of remorse at all." Reed, led by officers into the courtroom in handcuffs and an orange inmate jumpsuit, answered routine questions from U.S. Magistrate Judge William M. Catoe and showed no emotion during the brief proceedings. Arrested Feb. 3 outside Chicago, Reed is 29. Henson would be 29 in April. Investigators have said they don't think Reed had anything to do with Henson's 1999 disappearance. During the 10-minute hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins gave what prosecutors believe is a chronology of Reed's crimes involving Henson's identity. In October 2003, Wilkins said Reed began posing as the Travelers Rest woman, obtaining an ID card in Ohio and using her name, date of birth and Social Security number. Two months later, Wilkins said, Reed took a high school equivalency test in Ohio using Henson's name and received a degree. Again using Henson's information, she took a college entrance exam in California in May 2004, using her score to apply for admission to Columbia University, Wilkins said. Reed attended the New York school for two years, beginning in August 2004, Wilkins said. She then applied for and received student loans in Henson's name, in amounts investigators have said exceeded $100,000. A message left for university officials after business hours Monday was not immediately returned. Reed then applied to the state of South Carolina for a duplicate copy of Henson's birth certificate, which she received at an address in Massachusetts. In 2006, Reed also applied for a U. S. passport in Henson's name, Wilkins said. When the indictment was handed up last year, Henson's relatives said they hoped Reed would Know where the missing woman was. "Of course at first, it was just giving us hope that Brooke was alive," Lisa Henson said. A plea of not guilty on all charges was entered for Reed by Catoe, according to court documents. Catoe also ordered Reed to remain in federal custody until her next court hearing, which could be in about a month. Catoe appointed federal public defender Lora Collins to represent Reed. Collins, who did not appear with Reed on Monday, did not immediately return a phone message left at her office. Investigators have said Reed stole multiple people's identities and also was admitted to California State University at Fullerton and Harvard University, but Wilkins said Monday she is only currently facing charges in South Carolina and spoke solely about charges related to Henson. Wilkins commended federal authorities on Reed's capture, which he said was complicated by a case that spans the country. "I am very glad to have Esther Reed in the District of South Carolina to stand trial," he said. "It was the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack." If convicted on all four charges, Reed faces a possible $1 million fine and 47 years in prison, time Henson's aunt said she hopes Reed will serve. "I just hope that she never gets to see the light of day again," she said.