updated 10/26/2007 9:18:41 PM ET 2007-10-27T01:18:41

A 75-year-old woman who had known her family planned to shoot anyone who came on their land was convicted and sentenced to life in prison Friday for her role in the deaths of two law officers.

Rita Bixby was found guilty of conspiracy and two counts of accessory to murder in the Dec. 8, 2003, shootings.

Bixby wasn't home at the time of the shootings, but she knew her husband and son planned violence against anyone who stepped on their land, prosecutor Jerry Peace said. The family was angry that the state wanted to take a strip of their land for a highway project in Abbeville, about 85 miles west of Columbia.

The prosecutor said he thought e-mails Bixby sent to family and friends in the weeks before the shootings were the strongest evidence.

"I told them if they did anything on our property without our consent, they would be facing a shotgun. I guess you might say two shotguns, which would not be just for show," read an e-mail signed by Bixby and dated Nov. 4, 2003.

‘She’s a strong old lady’
Jurors, who deliberated about two hours, returned their verdict just minutes after the panel asked that the e-mails be reread, Peace said.

Rita Bixby's attorney Jeff Bloom said his client was simply exercising her First Amendment right to free speech.

"It's a tragedy all the way around," said Bloom, who plans to appeal. "She had never been involved in any crime of violence, not even a parking ticket."

Bloom said Bixby was disappointed.

"But she's a strong old lady, and she took the news well," he said. "She's prepared to fight through her appeal."

Death for son, trial for husband
Bixby's son, Steven, was sentenced to death in February for shooting sheriff's Sgt. Danny Wilson and state Constable Donnie Ouzts. Bixby's husband, Arthur, is awaiting trial on two counts of murder.

Wilson had gone to the home to discuss the Bixbys' anger over the road project, only to be mowed down while standing on the front porch. His body was dragged inside.

Ouzts arrived to check on Wilson once radio contact with the officer was lost. He was shot as he stepped out of his patrol car.

The 20-foot-wide strip of land the family refused to give up has since been used to expand a highway.

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