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Kontz’s Right to See Child at Stake: Parents of the Husband She Killed Seek Total Ban on Visits With Daughter

February 8, 2007

By Jim Nesbitt, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

Feb. 8–A Wilmington judge might rule as early as this afternoon whether admitted killer Ann Miller Kontz will be prohibited from having any contact with her 7-year-old daughter.

District Judge Phyllis Gorham is also weighing a lengthy visitation request from the child’s paternal aunt and grandparents — the sister and parents of murdered AIDS researcher Eric Miller of Raleigh, who died of arsenic poisoning in 2000.

In November 2005, Kontz pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in a Wake County courtroom. She admitted she slipped fatal doses of the heavy-metal poison to her first husband, a college sweetheart she met at Purdue University.

Kontz, serving a 25-year prison sentence, has stayed away from the hearing, which is expected to stretch well into a third day.

“She was afraid she’d make a circus out of things,” said Jim Lea, a Wilmington lawyer who represents Dan and Danielle Wilson, who have primary custody of Clare Miller.

Danielle Wilson is Kontz’s sister and is also expected to testify today, Lea said. Wilson and her husband were granted primary custody of the child in an agreement Gorham accepted in April. Paternal grandparents Verus and Doris Miller of Cambridge City, Ind., have secondary custody rights.

That custody arrangement is not being challenged in the hearing before Gorham, Lea said. Instead, the judge will have to decide whether it is in the child’s best interests to grant the Millers’ expanded visitation request as well as their request for permanent prohibition against any further contact with Kontz, a former research scientist at GlaxoSmithKline in Research Triangle Park.

“Everybody’s admitted they’re good custodians of Clare,” Lea said of his clients, the Wilsons. Attorneys for the Millers and Kontz did not return phone calls.

Tale of love and death

The hearing before Gorham is the latest twist in a long-running murder saga that featured a love triangle, a suicide, a state Supreme Court ruling that breached attorney-client privilege and death by a poison that criminologists say was once the murder weapon of choice for women.

Eric Miller, 30 at the time of his death, was also a research scientist working at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. In November 2000, Miller became sick after going bowling with three of his wife’s GSK co-workers and drinking beer poured by one of them, Derril H. Willard Jr.

By early December of that year, Miller was dead. An autopsy report showed he received at least two doses of arsenic, one of them while in the hospital. In January 2001, one day after police searched Willard’s home, his wife found him dead in their garage of a self-inflicted gunshot.

In 2002, Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby asked a judge to force Willard’s attorney, Richard Gammon, to reveal what his client might have said about Miller’s death. Prosecutors also revealed that Kontz and Willard had a romantic relationship. After a two-year legal battle, the state Supreme Court ruled Gammon must reveal what Willard told him — that Kontz had injected a syringe of arsenic-laced fluid into Miller’s intravenous line while he was in the hospital.

By this time, Kontz had remarried, settling in Wilmington in 2003 with Paul Martin Kontz, a Christian rock guitarist. In 2004, a Wake County grand jury handed down an indictment, charging her with first-degree murder.

(News researcher Becky Ogburn contributed to this article.)

Staff writer Jim Nesbitt can be reached at 829-8955 or jim.nesbitt@newsobserver.com.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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