Nearly seven years and uncounted tears since a woman’s body was found in a remote Rock County ravine, someone is going to prison for it.
A farmer in the town of Avon found the body of Kristin S. Miller, 33, in a ravine where deer carcasses often are thrown, Judge Michael Haakenson said as he recited facts of the case at sentencing Tuesday.
Miller had been stabbed numerous times. She was unclothed but wrapped in plastic sheeting and a moving blanket.
The sheeting and fine sawdust on it were the same as those found in the cabinet-making workshop of Keith M. Abbott in Racine County. Miller had a child with Abbott’s stepson, but Miller and the stepson had separated.
Abbott, 54, was having an affair with Miller, and she was blackmailing him, threatening to tell his wife if he didn’t give her money, according to the criminal complaint.
Abbott disappeared Jan. 1, 2011. He showed up at his home two days later, shaking and crying on his living-room floor and telling his wife he had stabbed “her,” that there was blood everywhere, and that he thought she was dead.
His wife believed he was talking about Miller.
Blood on Abbott’s clothing and his pickup truck was from Miller, tests later showed.
Haakenson sentenced Abbott to 35 years in prison Tuesday in Rock County Court for second-degree intentional homicide. Abbott gets credit for 2,512 days he has spent in custody, trimming nearly seven years from that total.
For some people age 54, it would be a life sentence, Haakenson said.
Abbott in September entered an Alford plea, admitting prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him while maintaining his innocence.
He has always maintained he doesn’t remember what happened, said co-defense counsel Walter Isaacson.
Abbott frequently dabbed his eyes in court Tuesday as he heard from his victim’s mother and sister, from the attorneys and from Haakenson as they gave their perspectives on what he had done and why.
Expressions of pain could be seen on the faces of Miller’s and Abbott’s families, as well.
Abbott rocked backward and forward with one hand twitching as he has done through years of court appearances.
Some of the mental-health professionals who evaluated him believed he was channeling his grief and shock from the murder into the physical tics. They said he suffers from depression and other problems. Others believed he was faking it.
Haakenson said he believes Abbott suffers from mental health problems because of the guilt or trauma from Miller’s murder but that he has exaggerated his condition.
Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson offered a theory for the murder, saying Miller’s threat to tell Abbott’s wife about their affair was not enough to make Abbott “snap.”
Hanson said Miller might have discovered Abbott kept child pornography on his computer, and she saw an opportunity to get Abbott to pay her bills forever.
That might have triggered the stabbing by Abbott, whose business was deeply in debt, Hanson said.
The computer also contained “snuff” movies in which people are murdered as part of a sex act, Hanson said.
Hanson said Abbott’s tics are akin to the madness that afflicts a murderer in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell Tale Heart.” She recommended the maximum sentence: 40 years in prison and 20 years of extended supervision.
Co-defense attorney Kelly Mattingly said Hanson’s theory has no basis because Hanson’s office withdrew the Racine County child-porn charges after Abbott pleaded guilty to the murder and others had access to the computer.
Mattingly argued that no one should be judged based on what they did on their worst day. He noted a data-based evaluation called COMPAS showed a low likelihood Abbott would commit another crime.
Abbott had no criminal record before the murder, Mattingly pointed out, adding that the murder went against everything Abbott was up to that point in his life.
Miller’s mother, Susan Earl, told of how she had last seen her daughter on Christmas Day, 2010. She remembers Miller’s hug and kiss and words: “I love you, Mom.”
Earl imagines her daughter’s body in that ravine, wondering if animals got to it.
Earl and Miller’s sister Cheryl Miller said the loss still torments them. They have attended most of the numerous court hearings, nearly all in Rock County, where the body was found. Abbott was prosecuted here because investigators could not say for sure where she was killed.
Cheryl Miller also spoke Tuesday. She last saw her sister standing in the bed of Abbott’s truck, the same truck where her blood was found. Cheryl keeps picturing her sister’s body in the truck bed.
Miller had two children, a boy, now 18, and a girl, now 9. Her son suffers from “demons” at the loss of his mother, her sister said.
Miller said her father had a Christmas tradition: He bought identical earrings for his wife and two daughters. Every year since Kristin’s death, the family has traveled to where her body was found to give her her earrings.
Abbott’s sister, Coleen Dionne, described a kind, loving, “happy-go-lucky brother” who saved her and her sister when they were going through abusive relationships.
In January 2011, as he was released from Winnebago Mental Health Institute, “he went from my brother to someone I didn’t know,” Dionne said. She said he was crying, confused and could not remember what happened.
Abbott turned to his family and to Kristin Miller’s as he apologized, looking saddened as he had for most of the hearing. He told them he prays for Miller and her children every morning and night.
“They lost their mother, and I’m sorry for that,” he said.
Haakenson called the stabbing “a particularly brutal homicide,” but he said he weighed that against Abbott’s crime-free life and the kind, loving acts his sister described.
Even Hanson said Abbott was well respected for his cabinetry, and she knew people who were comfortable in having him in their homes, Haakenson noted.
But Abbott had a side people didn’t know, Haakenson said, noting that a former business partner said Abbott would throw things during confrontations, and then there was the matter of child porn and snuff films.
Abbott’s former wife called him a liar and manipulative, Haakenson said.
And Abbott has an imaginary companion called John, whom Abbot believes is the devil.
“John” told Abbott to see prostitutes and has encouraged Abbott to hurt himself, Haakenson said, quoting from the presentence background report prepared by the state Department of Corrections.
Abbott also was sentenced to 20 years of extended supervision, which he will serve if he survives his prison sentence. Haakenson said even at that point, society needs protection from him.
“I think there is a dark side to Mr. Abbott, and until that dark side is dealt with, Mr. Abbott is a danger,” Haakenson said.