By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — The wait for justice is nearly over for the friends and family of Stephanie Low, whose 2010 death remained unsolved for years before her killer was convicted.
Kristopher Torgerson, 37, will appear Thursday in Marathon County Circuit Court, where Judge Greg Huber will decide if and when Togerson is ever released from prison. Torgerson was convicted March 24 by a jury of killing Low and hiding her body in a wooded area near Wabeno. He was acquitted of attempted armed robbery charges in the case.
A first-degree homicide charge carries a mandatory life sentence. But in Wisconsin, a life sentence doesn’t mean a killer will never be released. At sentencing, Judge Huber can decide whether Torgerson will be eligible for supervised release in 20 years, longer than 20 years, or not at all.
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 related to Low’s death, he would have been released from prison in August.
The jury convicting Torgerson reached its decision without the opportunity to hear about Torgerson’s violent past, including murdering his father while living in Alabama. At a May 2016 pretrial hearing, Judge Huber ruled the information about Torgerson’s father’s 2001 stabbing death could unfairly influence the jury.
But Torgerson’s criminal history, including the circumstances surrounding his own father’s death, will be considered at sentencing. The presentencing investigation, conducted by Department of Corrections staff, will also consider factors such as Torgerson’s family life, job history, and psychological health.
Low was reported missing in October 2010. She remained a missing person until September 2013, when police announced they had enough evidence to believe she had been killed. One year later, Torgerson, after learning prosecutors were planning to file a “body-less” homicide charge against him, led police to her body.
At trial, 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.
“It’s finally time, six and a half years later, to hold this man accountable for what he did,” Dufour said.