HOLMEN, Wis. (WKBT) - 31-year-old Bryce Anderson of Holmen is being sentenced to life in prison for the brutal murder of his girlfriend, but will have a chance of parole after 35 years.
Anderson previously admitted to killing his girlfriend, 28-year-old Kristen Johnson, in 2015 at the duplex the couple shared in Holmen.
According to the criminal complaint, Anderson repeatedly hit Johnson in the head with a hammer and cut her throat with a box cutter while their two young sons were home.
Johnson's family says she was making plans to leave Anderson when she was murdered.
At Wednesday's sentencing hearing, her mother and sister detailed what they described as a long history of abuse in the relationship, which often went unnoticed.
"You may know the term high-functioning alcoholic. Well in my opinion, Mr. Anderson is a high-functioning abuser," said Johnson's mother, Alice Ellis. "He knows exactly how to act and what to say, and carried out the role with perfection. He is a dangerous, manipulative and controlling individual."
Johnson's sister, Kayla Ellis, said Kristen told her months before the murder she was worried that Anderson might kill her, and that she was the victim of sexual and psychological abuse.
"He took her life before he ever actually killed her. He was slowly killing her from the day he met her, taking pieces of her day by day and killing her spirit until she had nothing left."
Johnson's family requested that Anderson be given life in prison without a chance of parole.
Anderson pleaded guilty to the murder earlier this year as part of a plea agreement.
PREVIOUS STORY (MARCH 2015): Authorities in Iowa arrested a 29-year-old man accused of killing his girlfriend at his residence in Holmen. He faces a first degree intentional homicide charge.
According to the criminal complaint, Holmen police were called to 2908 S. Cedar Ave. in Holmen just after 7 p.m. Monday for a welfare check on Bryce Anderson because he had made a comment that he was suicidal. A Holmen police officer talked to Anderson on the phone who made suicidal comments as well as comments about killing someone.
Due to the nature of the call, officers entered the residence. The criminal complaint states officers found a large pool of blood in the bedroom in the lower level of the residence along with a hammer and box cutter. In the garage in the back of a vehicle, police located the dead body of Anderson’s girlfriend covered in a blanket and a piece of carpeting. When police removed the body, officers saw a belt around her neck and blunt force trauma to her head. A family member confirmed to News 8 the victim is Kristen Johnson.
According to the criminal complaint, police found a letter in the residence signed by Anderson that stated he confronted his girlfriend Sunday morning about having an affair. Police said he then placed a belt around her neck and during the struggle she swung a hammer at him and he then took the hammer and struck her in the head several times and then cut her throat with a box cutter.
Anderson stated he took their two boys and drove to Beloit on March 1 to see his mother but then changed his mind and returned to Holmen. Sources told News 8 the kids are safe. On March 2, Anderson bought a shotgun and shells and police found a box of shells with seven shells missing.
The complaint states a man told police he received photos on March 1 on his cellphone from the phone of the victim of her body beaten and bloody from Anderson. Police said there was a message with the photos to the effect of “This is what happens when you are a liar.”
Justin Adams, a neighbor who shares the same duplex as the couple was shocked to hear about the murder.
"Yeah we were friends. You know they'd come over we would have fires outside her kids would come over," Adams said. "Yeah they'd argue but every couple argues it's a fact of life."
Adams said he never heard a struggle on Sunday night.
"We actually never heard anything violence or screaming, I feel bad that we didn't hear anything," Justin Adams said.
Holmen Police Chief Mike McHugh said Anderson was arrested in Jones County, Iowa, after having car trouble on the side of the road.
Knowing that the suspect is now in custody gives Adams peace of mind that he and his family are safe.
"Well now that they have Anderson , we feel safer, I'm not just going to pick and move and say 'we are not going to live in Holmen anymore', it's still, I believe, a safe community." Adams said.
In a news release, Jones County Sheriff Greg Graver said the Sheriff's Office received information from Iowa State Patrol that Anderson had gone into a ditch near Center Junction in Jones County at about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. They were notified he was wanted out of La Crosse County for intentional homicide and he was armed with a shotgun.
Sheriff Graver said Anderson contacted Jones County Dispatch via 911 at about 8:15 a.m. to report he had gone in the ditch at 80th Avenue and 130th St. N.W. of the City of Onslow. Multiple units from multiple agencies converged on that location. Anderson stayed on the phone with dispatch and gave himself up. He was taken into custody without incident and transported to the Jones County Jail and is awaiting extradition procedures.
The Holmen Police Department was assisted by the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigations, the Wisconsin Crime Lab, the Onalaska and La Crosse Police Departments, and the La Crosse County Sheriff's Department.
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