Photo by George Lauby
Emerson Craig walks up the sidewalk to his sentencing, flanked by Lincoln County Chief Deputy Roland Kramer.
Convicted murderer Emerson Craig, who has been in jail for nearly two-and-a-half years, will spend at least 10 years behind bars, following sentencing Monday in Lincoln County Court.Craig, 62, murdered his wife, Heidi, in April 2014. After a lenghty investigation, he was arrested that October. Since then, he has been behind bars for 881 days, awaiting his final day in court.
That day finally arrived Monday. Lincoln County District Court Judge Donald Rowlands handed down a 20-60 year sentence.
That means at the earliest, Craig will be eligible for parole after serving 10 years, prosecutor Corey O’Brien told the Bulletin after the session. O’Brien said the time Craig has served already – 2.4 years -- will be counted toward the 10 years.
The Nebraska Board of Parole can refuse to release Craig at that time, as well as in subsequent years. If it does and if Craig is still in prison after 30 years, he will be eligible then for mandatory discharge, O’Brien said.
In issuing the sentence, Rowlands also referred to a release in 30 years, and added, “…he should be supervised for the remainder of his days.”
Throughout the court session, Craig moved slowly and kept his head and eyes turned down. He declined to speak on his own behalf. He walked with a slight limp. He looked wan and tired.
But a recent psychological evaluation showed no evidence that Craig was impaired or unable to assist in his own defense, O’Brien told the court.
Defense Attorney Amanda Speichert, Craig’s public defender, requested that mental health evaluation a month ago, just three days before sentencing was initially scheduled. When Speichert asked for the evaluation, she said some of the things she saw in the presentence investigation report caused concern about Craig’s competency.
So, sentencing was postponed another month while another evaluation was conducted.
When O’Brien addressed the court, he asked Rowlands to issue “a substantial sentence, if not life” imprisonment. He argued that Craig exacerbated the legal process by trying to cover up the crime, and he noted Craig’s criminal history.
On the other hand, Defense Attorney Amanda Speichert said Craig’s criminal history is not for violent crimes. She said Craig saved his wife’s family the emotional distress of trial by pleading guilty. She said the circumstances of Heidi’s death still remain somewhat unclear.
“We’re not going to rehash his version of events,” Speichert said, “but he has deep sorrow over her death. It is something he will have to deal with every day of his life.”
When Rowlands replied, he summarized Craig’s criminal past – the sale of controlled substance in 1976, for which he did five years in prison. A theft conviction in 1987 that resulted in a two-year prison sentence. A theft in 1989 meant another year behind bars. Craig was also convicted of theft in 2007, for which he was sentenced to three years of probation, but he failed to complete probation satisfactorily, Rowlands said.
Rowlands said the pre-sentence investigation indicated Craig presents a high risk of more criminal activity if he has opportunity.
Then he issued the sentence.
Craig pleaded guilty Jan. 10 to second-degree murder, just a week before his trial was scheduled to begin on a charge of premeditated first-degree murder. Second-degree murder is “causing death intentionally, but without premeditation.”
At 10 p.m. on April 26, 2014, Craig called 911 and said he found Heidi in a Quonset on their acreage, where a hay bale fell on her and killed her while he was outside gathering up cats to put them in the shed for the night.
An extensive investigation began. When a detailed autopsy was complete in October, it was determined that the scene was staged and Craig was charged with murder.
No injuries were found on Heidi's body below the neck, according to the autopsy. The autopsy also indicated she suffered blunt force trauma to the head, plus strangulation.
An emergency responder said Heidi’s body was cold to the touch when he first arrived and checked for a pulse, according to a court affidavit.
It was also discovered that Craig had obtained a life insurance policy on his wife that would pay double if her death was the result of an accident. He was the sole beneficiary.