Ann Miller Kontz gets 25 years in poisoning death

RALEIGH -- After nearly five years of denials, Ann Miller Kontz pleaded
guilty Monday to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree
murder in the poisoning death of her first husband, Eric Miller.
She was sentenced to between 25 years and 31 1/2 years in prison -- the
maximum allowed for a person with no prior convictions.

She acknowledged that for two weeks in November 2000, she conspired with
co-worker Derril Willard to poison Miller.

Kontz, 35, was charged with first-degree murder in September 2004, nearly
four years after the death of Eric Miller, 30, a pediatric AIDS researcher
and the father of her child.

For Miller's family, this was it. After almost five years, the moment they'd
been waiting for: an admission of guilt from the "evil" woman who they said
inflicted a painful death on a man who loved her.

Kontz entered a Wake County courtroom Monday in a cream turtleneck, cropped
black blazer and gray skirt. Her hair, short and wispy in earlier court
appearances, has grown into a thick, shoulder-length blond bob. Some strands
covered her face as she sat between her lawyers, Joseph B. Cheshire V and
Wade Smith.

She turned to her family and smiled before she sat to face Wake Senior
Resident Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens.

Within minutes, Eric Miller's family heard her admit to killing him.

"Ms. Kontz, did you with malice unlawfully and intentionally participate in
causing the death of Eric Miller?" Stephens asked.

"Yes," she said.

Verus Miller, Eric's father, looked past his wife into the eyes of his
youngest daughter, Leeann Magee.

He nodded and said, "Yes."

Asks God for forgiveness

Eric Miller and Ann Brier met at Indiana's Purdue University. They married
in 1993 and moved to Raleigh. He worked as a postdoctoral research scientist
at UNC-Chapel Hill's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center; she was a
research scientist in Research Triangle Park.

On Monday, Ann Miller Kontz never lifted her head to face her former
in-laws. She expressed her remorse through a statement read by Cheshire but
did not offer a motive.

"For reasons I do not now understand, I permitted myself to knowingly
participate with Derril Willard in events which cost my husband his life,"
she wrote. "I will struggle for the rest of my life with how this could have
happened. ... I have asked God to forgive me, and I hope that God will also
help those others whom I have hurt to find it in their hearts one day to
forgive me as well."

That wasn't enough for Miller's family. The apology didn't come from her own

>From the prosecutors' table, Miller's family spoke of him as a loving man
and an accomplished scientist.

"Ann! You murdered my son," Doris Miller of Indiana said, trembling as she
spoke about her only son. "I have a hole in my heart and a pain in my chest
every day."

Verus Miller flashed some of his favorite pictures of his son. As he did,
Ann Miller spoke to Smith, her lawyer.

"Wonder what Ann's favorite picture is of Eric? I've got an image in my mind
.... Eric lying in a hospital bed dead."

Eric's oldest sister, Pamela Baltzell of Kentucky, spoke loudly and then
broke into a rant of frustration.

"Ann! Why don't you look at me? Why can't you look at me?"

Kontz didn't look up.

"Why, Ann? Why did you cruelly murder my brother Eric?" Baltzell continued.
"The only explanation I can find is the fact that there is pure evil in this
world. The only thing Ann Brier Miller Kontz is sorry about is that she was

Kontz audibly sobbed as her former sister-in-law, Leeann Magee of
Pennsylvania, spoke about Kontz's and Eric Miller's daughter, 5-year-old
Clare, who lives with one of Kontz's sisters.

"I don't believe that you, Ann, truly love your daughter. How could you? You
have taken away one of the most precious gifts that she will ever have: her
father," said Magee, holding her stomach with her fist. "I will never
understand, Ann, why you just didn't divorce him. ... You will get your just
punishment in death with eternity in hell."

After they finished, Kontz turned around and flashed a smile at her second
husband, Paul Martin Kontz.

A complicated case

The plea was a compromise in a complicated case, Stephens said.

Prosecutors and the Miller family avoid the possibility that appeals could
free Kontz. Kontz gets credit for the year she spent behind bars awaiting a
first-degree murder trial in which she could have faced life in prison.

After the plea, District Attorney Colon Willoughby called one witness:
fedora-wearing, tobacco-chewing Chris Morgan.

Morgan, a retired Raleigh police lieutenant who investigated Miller's death,
laid out the prosecution's case.

He said Kontz and Derril Willard were co-workers having an affair who had
access to arsenic at work.

During a bowling outing in Raleigh, Miller fell ill after drinking beer that
Willard bought and poured.

Two weeks later, Miller made a final trip to the hospital after his parents
left him with his wife to have dinner.

Willard, who killed himself in 2001, told his lawyer that Kontz said she was
visiting her husband in a hospital, "took a syringe from her purse and
injected the contents" into Miller's intravenous line, according to
testimony in a December 2004 court hearing.

The statements were revealed after a legal battle that went twice to the
N.C. Supreme Court. Prosecutors persuaded the courts to order Willard's
lawyer, Richard Gammon, to reveal what Willard had told him.

In November 2003, Ann Miller married Paul Martin Kontz, a Christian rock
guitarist she met in Wilmington, where she moved with her daughter. For the
past year, she has been at N.C. Correctional Institution for Women in

On Monday, Kontz's relatives left the courtroom and walked quietly down a
stairwell. But Eric Miller's parents and sisters spent an hour with

Verus Miller likened Ann Miller Kontz to the California man convicted a year
ago of killing his wife and their unborn child. "I feel like she's a
narcissistic psychopath in the mold of Scott Peterson," he said.