By Shereen Siewert
Kristopher Torgerson will never be a free man, after he was sentenced Thursday to life without the possibility of early release in the 2010 death of Stephanie Low.
The courtroom erupted in applause when Circuit Judge Greg Huber passed down the sentence. Many of Low’s family members wiped tears from their eyes while Torgerson, wordlessly, was led from the courtroom in shackles.
Torgerson was also sentenced to an additional 9 years in prison for hiding Low’s body.
Defense attorney Thomas Wilmouth gave an impassioned argument to Judge Greg Huber describing the “strange, difficult life” his client, Kristopher Torgerson, lived.
Even as a child in Alabama, Wilmouth said, Torgerson was described as an uncontrollable student who was introduced to alcohol and drugs at age 7 by his own father. Torgerson was not raised by a kind, loving, supportive family, Wilmouth said, but in a world of substance abuse and turmoil.
Wilmouth argued that the prosecutor’s characterization of Torgerson’s father’s death as “murder.” Instead, Wilmouth said Torgerson killed his father in a domestic incident that turned tragic. After his father’s death, Torgerson spent 24 months in an Alabama prison, which Wilmouth described as one of the most brutal in the nation.
“If you’re going to show no mercy today, do not choose to do so based on the death of his father,” Wilmouth said.
Defense attorney Thomas Wilmouth is now asking Circuit Court Judge Greg Huber to allow Kristopher Torgerson to petition the court for extended release after 28 years, in 2045.
Torgerson would be 65.
“You’re telling Torgerson, if I give you that hearing in 2045, I may, or my successor, may decide to allow you to live in the community for whatever time you have left, with restrictions,” Wilmouth said. “How is that potential process not punitive enough?”
If Torgerson is allowed a hearing in 28 years, Torgerson would have to prove he is no longer a “monster,” Wilmouth said.
The state’s presentencing report, completed by the Department of Corrections, recommends Torgerson be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutor Richard Dufour told Circuit Court Judge Grau that Kristopher Torgerson’s long criminal history is proof of his character.
“He likes to get sympathy because he lost his father,” Dufour said. “He didn’t lose his father. He killed his father. He murdered his father with a knife.”
That murder happened in 2001 in Alabama, according to court records. Torgerson claims he killed his father in self defense.
Richard Dufour, special prosecutor in the case, is asking Circuit Judge Greg Huber to sentence Kristopher Torgerson to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Frankly, your honor, I don’t think the defendant has the ability to rehabilitate himself,” Dufour said.
Torgerson’s continued refusal to take any responsibility shows that Torgerson is still blaming others for his crime, he said.
“He chose to take that body and hide it,” Dufour said. “He chose to bury it, with no dignity, no respect….leaving her family with that hope that she was alive somewhere.”
Torgerson’s actions were even more cruel because he kept Low’s family from knowing her fate, even as they repeatedly searched for her in the three years she was considered a missing person.
“That pain will never go away,” Dufour said. “That pain was caused by the defendant. The defendant who chose to take that life on that day.”
Loud sobs were heard from the courtroom while Dufour described the horror and suffering that Low endured in the final moments of her life, from someone she had known.
Police said Low and Torgerson had known each other for months before she was killed, and Torgerson was a frequent visitor at her home.
Dufour said Torgerson took a knife with him on the night he killed Low, taking it from the knife set belonging to his then-girlfriend, Andrea Wadinski.
“While the defendant didn’t plan out the homicide, he planned for what could happen and what did happen,” Dufour said.
In the opening hour of Kristopher Torgerson’s sentencing hearing, friends and family members are speaking to Marathon County Circuit Judge Greg Huber about the impact Torgerson’s crime has had and continues to have.
One woman, identified only as Bonnie, said she is a longtime friend of Claudia Blake, Low’s mother. Bonnie had harsh words for Torgerson.
“In some ways you believe your actions have been justified and you shouldn’t have been found guilty,” she said. “You should be sentenced to death.”
Torgerson, shackled and dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, is showing little, if any, emotion while seated next to his attorney, Thomas Wilmouth.
One woman described the pain Low’s family went through every time a body was found over the years Stephanie was missing.
“You are evil,” the woman said. “You are just pure evil.”
The long-awaited sentencing for a 37-year-old man convicted in the 2010 death and disappearance of Stephanie Low is about to begin.
Wausau Pilot & Review will update this story throughout the day with details from the Marathon County Courthouse, where dozens of Low’s friends and family members are seated in the courtroom. Many are wearing white shirts bearing an image of Stephanie on the front, along with a message, “I miss her,” to show solidarity for their lost loved one.
Today, Marathon County Circuit Judge Greg Huber will decide whether Kristopher Torgerson, Low’s killer, will ever be released from prison. In Wisconsin, a first-degree intentional homicide conviction is subject to an automatic life sentence. But judges decide at sentencing whether a convicted killer will be released on extended supervision — Wisconsin’s version of parole — in 20 years, in more than 20 years, or never at all.
There is no time off for good behavior.
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.
Torgerson was convicted on the first-degree homicide charge in March. He was also convicted of hiding a corpse. He was acquitted of a third charge: attempted armed robbery.
Her family has waited nearly ten years for justice.
This story will be updated throughout the day.