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Kontz Avoids Life Sentence With Plea Deal In Husband's Death

Posted November 8, 2005
Updated July 24, 2007

— The woman accused in the arsenic poisoning death of her husband nearly five years ago was sentenced to at least 25 years in prison after pleading guilty Monday to murder and conspiracy charges.

In a statement read Monday by her defense attorney, Joseph Cheshire, Ann Miller Kontz said she felt "a deep sense of remorse and regret" for the death of her husband, pediatric AIDS researcher Eric Miller.

Kontz, who remarried and moved to Wilmington after Miller's death, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, acknowledging that she poisoned Miller at least twice before his death in December 2000. The couple had a child, Clare, now almost 6 years old, together.

Under the deal with the state, Kontz will serve two consecutive terms for a total of 25 to 31 years in prison, meaning she will be at least 60 years old before she is released.

In the plea, Kontz said she conspired with Derril Willard -- a colleague at GlaxoSmithKline and with whom authorities said she had a romantic relationship.

In November 2000, Miller got sick after a night out bowling with his wife and some friends. He died Dec. 2 of arsenic poisoning. Initially, Raleigh police did not name Kontz as a suspect in Miller's death, but further into their investigation Raleigh police discovered Kontz's relationship with Willard and that they both had access to an arsenic compound where they worked.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said that while Kontz could have been found guilty if her case had gone to trial, the case was based on circumstantial evidence and a guilty verdict was no guarantee. The plea deal was the best guarantee to keep Kontz in prison for an extended period of time.

"There were some legal frailties about this case that we all knew that proposed a risk if it were tried and she were convicted, and it went on appeal," Willoughby said.

A key piece of evidence in the case is Willard's statement to attorney Rick Gammon that Kontz poisoned her husband while he was hospitalized -- information that would be difficult to admit into trial because Willard committed suicide shortly after police questioned him in January 2001 about the case.

Kontz 'Played The System'

Originally scheduled to go to trial in January 2006, Kontz would have faced a life sentence in prison if she would have been convicted of Miller's death. She would have also had to answer to a history of betrayal that began long before her affair with Willard.

Both Willard's widow, Yvette Willard, and the lead investigator in the case, said Kontz was "playing the system."

In the same home where her husband committed suicide under the pressure of investigation, Yvette Willard said Derril Willard was not capable of murder and Kontz, in her plea agreement, was trying to share the blame with a dead man.

"She's admitting responsibility for what she did to Eric, but she's not admitting what she did to Derill," Willard said. "That really makes me angry and sad because he's just allowed to be trashed and anyone can say anything and there's nothing you can do to defend him."

Derill Willard's attorney, Gammon, however, said the N.C. Supreme Court ruled in favor of his client, saying that nothing Derill Willard disclosed in private conversations with Gammon implicated him in Miller's death.

Former Raleigh Police Lt. Chris Morgan, who spent five years working on the Miller case, said that even while Kontz has been behind bars, she has been manipulating the truth.

"In five years of following this case, there's no doubt in my mind who the lead in this situation was, and that was Ann Miller," he said.

Before the alleged affair with Willard, Morgan said Kontz was cheating on her husband with a California man. She even paid for cross-country flights and rendezvous at lavish hotels in New York and the Outer Banks, he said.

"She did these things and walked away without any remorse," Morgan said.

Miller Family: Kontz Has No Remorse

In court Monday, Miller's family members echoed Morgan's statement about Kontz having no remorse.

During proceedings, Kontz bowed her head and cried quietly while Miller's family spoke. Her silence, however, was met with contempt.

"Ann, why don't you look at me? Why can't you look at me?" one of Miller's sisters said.

"I have a hole in my heart and a pain in my chest every day, and with every breath I take, you have taken my son from me," said Doris Miller, Eric Miller's mother. "I'll never hold him again. He'll never sit at my table. I will never see him smile."

And though she had expressed regret through her attorney, Miller's family members said they did not believe Klontz's feelings were sincere.

"She wants forgiveness," said Miller's father, Verus Miller. "Where's the forgiveness been for the last five years? She's sorry, she's sorry she got caught."

Verus Miller said the family accepted the plea, in part, to keep Kontz from raising his granddaughter, who is currently in the care of Kontz's sister in Wilmington.

"One of the reasons this plea agreement is so good is that it removes Ann from Clare's life," Verus Miller said.

The Miller family would not say if it planned to seek custody of the child.


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