Prosecutors want 140-year sentence in Villa Park murder

  • Eric Gilford

    Eric Gilford

  • Eric and Kristine Gilford

    Eric and Kristine Gilford

  • Kristine Gilford

    Kristine Gilford

 
Updated 9/29/2011 6:18 PM

Sixteen times.

Eric Gilford was so enraged when his pregnant wife left him, he stabbed her 16 times, killing her and their unborn son, DuPage County prosecutors said Thursday in seeking 140 years in prison for the former U.S. Navy recruiter.

 

"It's just unfathomable how cruel that is, how vicious it is," Assistant State's Attorney David Bayer said at Gilford's sentencing hearing.

Judge Kathryn Creswell said she will sentence Gilford on Tuesday. He faces up to 140 years, but his attorney asked for leniency, citing the 32-year-old's history of mental illness and lack of a prior criminal record.

Gilford pleaded guilty in June to murdering Kristine on May 26, 2010, in her ex-boyfriend's Villa Park apartment. The slaying occurred the day Kristine's daughter turned 4; she was at her mother's side during the attack.

In court, Gilford apologized to family members torn apart by the killing, "especially" the child who witnessed it.

"I think about what happened every day, and every day I want to go back and change it, but I can't," he said. "I'm sorry."

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Kristine's father, Dennis Courtney, testified the murder "deeply traumatized" his young granddaughter who now has a "horrendous picture to carry throughout her life."

"Every birthday she celebrates will be a reminder of the day she saw the bad man stab her mother to death in front of her," he said. "There also is our unborn grandson ... a child we will never be able to know or love."

Kristine, who grew up in Arlington Heights and attended high school in Naperville, died from stab wounds to her chest, abdomen, back and arms.

But the 35-year-old woman survived long enough to identify her attacker. Her daughter also identified Gilford in a photo and named him "the bad guy" armed with a knife and a hammer who hurt her mother.

Gilford pleaded guilty to one count each of first-degree murder and intentional homicide of an unborn child in a deal with prosecutors capping his sentence. He could receive consecutive terms of up to 80 and 60 years in prison for each death.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

After meeting online, Gilford and Kristine were married and moved in together in February 2010. Kristine was about 20 weeks pregnant when she moved out of the couple's Downers Grove home and in with a former boyfriend on the 300 block of North Ardmore Avenue in Villa Park.

Gilford was a sailor stationed in "several locations around the world" for 13 years before he became a recruiter, according to a psychologist who interviewed him. In 2003, he sought treatment for attention deficit disorder.

The psychologist said Gilford had a "very positive response" to medication until 2010. Only after the murder did he disclose he had been hearing voices for five years.

The day of the murder, Gilford claimed, he heard voices saying "stab her, stab her," during a confrontation with his wife in which she told him she loved her ex-boyfriend and that he was willing to care for her and the unborn child.

"In my opinion, his anger was his primary motivation for attacking his wife," forensic psychologist John Murray testified. "The hallucination is present, but Mr. Gilford was responding to what his wife said."

Jeff Harkey, chief forensic pathologist for the DuPage County coroner's office, said Kristine received 16 "forceful" stabs to both sides of her body with a 12-inch knife. She died during surgery, which is when the unborn child died.

Among other evidence presented to Judge Creswell was a video statement by Kristine's daughter, who was "in the room right next to her mother when the murder occurred," prosecutors said.

Creswell said the video corroborated details of the killing.

"She says he had a hammer and a knife. She sees a picture and says, 'That's the bad guy Eric,'" Creswell said.

After the murder, Gilford drove to Fargo, North Dakota, and abandoned his vehicle and GPS. He then traveled to Jackson, Wyo., where he tried to assume the identity of one of his former recruits before being apprehended at a homeless shelter. During his travels after the killing, police said, he managed to catch a White Sox game in Seattle.

Gilford, who has been held without bond since his extradition to Illinois, appeared in court unshackled and in orange jail clothes. He showed no outward emotion as the gruesome allegations were presented.