British mother, 49, seeks to appeal US travel ban so they can reunite

British mother, 49, married to US inmate serving 75 years for murder who ‘doesn’t think about whether he’s guilty’ reveals she’s hoping to overturn a travel ban that’s prevented her visiting him for five YEARS

  • Mum-of-two Heike Phelan, from Huddersfield, has not seen husband since 2017
  • She wed William Matthew Schiffert in 2012 after years of writing letters to him
  • He is currently serving a life sentence in a Texas jail for a fatal stabbing in 2001
  • She received a 10-year ban on travelling to the US after overstaying her visa 
  • But she is hopeful that the ban can be lifted because her husband is a US citizen 
  • A Yorkshire mother who married a prisoner serving life for murder hopes she will soon be allowed to overturn a ban preventing her from entering the US and reuniting with him. 

    Mum-of-two Heike Phelan, 49, of Huddersfield, wed William Matthew Schiffert, also 49, in a prison ceremony in November 2012 after years of writing letters to him in his cell. 

    Schiffert is currently serving a life sentence in a Texas jail for stabbing someone to death in 2001.

    But Heike is unable to visit him in prison because she received a 10-year ban on entering the US after she outstayed a visa when she got caught up in a car crash in Dallas, Texas and needed to remain in the country for treatment. 

    Mum-of-two Heike Phelan hopes to overturn a ban to travel to the US and soon be reunited with her husband, Matthew Schiffert, who is serving life in prison for murder

    Mum-of-two Heike Phelan hopes to overturn a ban to travel to the US and soon be reunited with her husband, Matthew Schiffert, who is serving life in prison for murder

    However, she believes the new year will bring a fresh opportunity to review the ruling, because she is married to an American citizen.

    Speaking to Yorkshire Live, Heike said: ‘This May will be five years so I can put an appeal in. An immigration lawyer over there has told me they’re not supposed to be able to ban you from the country for more than five years if you have an American spouse.’

    She described the possibility of being able to see her husband again soon as ‘brilliant’. 

    Despite their enforced separation, Heike has managed to maintain contact with Schiffert with video calls, which were introduced during the pandemic.

    Hopeful: Heike Phelan believes she could challenge the ban as her husband is a US citizen

    Hopeful: Heike Phelan believes she could challenge the ban as her husband is a US citizen

    She said: ‘That’s been keeping us going, along with phone calls which are a maximum of thirty minutes, for the past year.’

    The devoted wife added that they speak two or three times every day.  

    Both Heike and Schiffert are no strangers to being kept apart, having waited almost a year after they wed before she was allowed to kiss him.  

    In an interview in March on ITV’s This Morning, she shared that it was years before she was able to hug her husband, because he spent the first year of their marriage in segregation and met her behind a perspex glass screen.

    ‘We’d been together three years by the time we were married,’ she said, ‘I’d started going out three or four times a year. But all those visits were all behind the perspex glass because he was in segregation at the time. 

    ‘We’d been married a year before we had a contact visit, which is just sitting opposite each other at a table, before we actually got to have a hug and a kiss.’   

    Heike met Schiffert through a Christmas card scheme on a prisoner support website and says that her husband had been completely open about his crimes from the start.

    Schiffert (pictured with Heike on a prison visit) is currently serving a life sentence for stabbing someone to death in 2001

    Schiffert (pictured with Heike on a prison visit) is currently serving a life sentence for stabbing someone to death in 2001

    ‘In the very first letter he told me what he was in prison for,’ she said. 

    ‘Other things he’d done that he’d done time for, he said: “You can Google me and see what I’m telling you is right”. 

    ‘Every time he told me something, that’s what I did, and every time it did turn out to be correct.’ 

    The mother claimed that her husband was not directly involved in the murder, but was convicted under a Texas law that deems anyone involved with the crime equally responsible for the death. 

    ‘It’s not that I think about whether he’s guilty or innocent,’ she said. ‘That’s a crime that happened long before I knew him.

    ‘So when he wrote to me and I said I’d write back as a friend, I said I won’t sit in judgement but I won’t be lied to, so you need to be honest with me and will get to know the person you are now, not judge you on things you’ve done before. 

    ‘So I started with a clean slate with him essentially.’  

    The mum went on to explain that she had been writing to William for 18 months before they met in person, and found she ‘learned to trust him’ as he told her more about himself. 

    She said: ‘Over time he told me more and more and more and he became very open with me about himself and his background. 

    ‘As you learn to trust somebody more you become more invested in that person and that’s essentially how it happened.’ 

    ‘It was 18 months before I first went to visit him and I was quite nervous, I was worried, will the person on paper match in person? Fortunately it did.’  

    Heike spoke about her relationship with Schiffert on ITV's This Morning earlier this year

    Heike spoke about her relationship with Schiffert on ITV’s This Morning earlier this year

    The mother claims her husband could be eligible for parole in just two years, and hopes they can live together one day.

    ‘He’s just become part of my life’, she said. ‘I still have my job and friends and my lifestyle, I go out and travel, I’ve written books about his life in prison. He’s a benefit and addition to my life just like any other relationship.’ 

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