WAUSAU – (8:01 p.m.) After deliberating for more than five hours, an Eau Claire County jury has found Kristopher Torgerson guilty in the 2010 murder of Stephanie Low.
Torgerson, 37, showed little emotion as the verdicts were read. He now stands convicted of first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse, but was acquitted of attempted armed robbery. The verdict marks the end of a nearly seven-year wait for justice by friends and family members of Low, who was considered a missing person until October 2013.
Torgerson has a long criminal history tracing back to 2001, when he killed his own father in Alabama, court records show. He is currently serving a prison term on drug trafficking charges unrelated to Low’s murder. Had he been acquitted on all charges, he would have been released from prison in August.
The jury reached its decision without the opportunity to hear about Torgerson’s violent past, including his father’s murder. Marathon County Judge Greg Huber ruled the information about his father’s stabbing death could unfairly influence the jury.
“The jury very well could think, well, he killed his own father, he very well would likely have killed someone else,” Huber said, during a May 2016 pretrial motions hearing.
First-degree intentional homicide is a felony that carries a mandatory sentence of life in the Wisconsin prison system. At a sentencing hearing, which will be set at a later date, the judge will only decide whether Torgerson will ever be eligible for release under extended supervision.
The verdict comes after hours of dramatic closing arguments by both the prosecution and the defense.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Thomas Wilmouth spent more than an hour dissecting the evidence presented in the case and trying to establish reasonable doubt among jurors. Wilmouth called into question the the testimony of several key witnesses who repeatedly lied to police during the investigation. Wilmouth specifically pointed to Togerson’s then-girlfriend, Andrea Wadinski, saying Wadinski is not Torgerson’s victim but rather someone who victimized Stephanie Low.
He also pointed out changes in statements made by Richard Hawkins, a longtime friend of Torgerson who testified he helped bury Low’s body. Hawkins said one thing before the trial and something else during the trial, Wilmouth told the jury.
In his argument, prosecutor Richard Dufour said there is “no question” Torgerson caused Low’s death. “And all the evidence in this case points to the defendant and only the defendant. If you even believe one of the people who got up on this witness stand, you have to believe the defendant is guilty.”
Dufour spent nearly 90 minutes reviewing each key piece of evidence in the case. Low’s body had a number of defensive wounds including a cut on her wrist that showed she was “fighting for her life,” Dufour said. Her body was found buried beneath a rock near a cabin belonging to Torgerson’s then-girlfriend, Andrea Wadinski.
The defense conceded that Torgrson is guilty of hiding Low’s body. Dufour told jurors that the facts of the case showed that Torgerson only hid Low’s body because he killed her.
“When you go back to begin to deliberate, do not check your common sense at the door,” Dufour said.
Prosecutors said that Torgerson, on the night before Low was killed, was desperate for crack cocaine and had no money to buy the drugs. Low was known to sell drugs from her apartment, according to court records. When Low refused to give him the drugs, prosecutors theorized, that’s when Torgerson killed her.
More than 40 witnesses were called to testify over the course of the 10-day trial. Six witnesses testified that Torgerson admitted killing Low, who was a missing person until October 2013, when police announced they believed she was dead.
“It’s finally time, six and a half years later, to hold this man accountable for what he did,” Dufour said.
Jurors again today saw video recorded in September 2014 of Torgerson leading police to Low’s body, days before formal charges were filed against him. In the video, Torgerson is heard telling investigators he didn’t “intentionally” take Low’s life.
But Marathon County Circuit Judge Greg Huber explained to the jury today that intent to kill should not be confused with murder that is planned. Intent can be formed the instant the murder takes place, according to state law.
A presentencing investigation will be completed within the next 60 days, court records show. The information gathered in the investigation will be used to help the judge decide whether Torgerson will ever be released from prison, or will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
A sentencing date will be set next week.