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Kristina Pongracz will spend more than a decade in prison for the killing of her 77-year-old boyfriend, William Herchenrider, in May, 2010. Pongracz, now 30, was 28 at the time of the attack.
Herchenrider died on August 25, 2010, after briefly returning home from the hospital, under Hospice care. Pongracz had been with Herchenrider for 10 years, prior to the incident in May 2010.
In testimony during a preliminary hearing in the case, Deputy Chris Brown of the Bedford County Sheriff's Office, said in responding to a call he found Herchenrider on the floor, on all fours, bleeding with Pongracz lying on the floor in her underwear.
A medical examiner determined that Herchenrider's death was ultimately due to the injuries he sustained in the beating.
Last year, Pongracz was found guilty of second degree murder after entering a no contest plea in connection with the case. She had faced charges of first degree murder, which was amended to second degree murder as part of a plea agreement, and aggravated malicious wounding, a charge which the prosecution dropped.
During the sentencing hearing, held Friday morning in Bedford County Circuit Court, Pongracz's defense attorneys, Webster Hogeland and Kelli Boyer, presented several witnesses and Pongracz gave lengthy testimony on her own behalf.
"I met Bill [Herchenrider] in August of 2000," she said. "I had just graduated from High School in June.”
Herchenrider was an executive for Delta Star and she had been offered a job as a receptionist there. She said that she later learned that she was hired because "Bill's intention was to have a cute girl working the front desk."
Not long after she started, Pongracz testified that Herchenrider had her flown to Las Vegas in a company jet for dinner.
"It was exciting to fly in a jet," she said.
Pongracz said that Herchenrider soon began making sexual advances, asking her to perform oral sex, which she did. This was often in his car.
Favors provided to her included a company car, even though she did not have a driver's license.
Pongracz said that Herchenrider lost his job in October, 2000 and she lost her job shortly after.
She described an on-and-off relationship with Herchenrider after that, with visits every three or four months. She moved in with him in November, 2004.
She said the couple had a stormy relationship—with Herchenrider frequently throwing her out of the house and inviting her back. She also admitted to heavy drinking and said that she knew she had been diagnosed as bipolar, but did not take the prescribed medications because she was afraid of combining them with alcohol.
She testified that, the night she beat Herchenrider, he had locked her out of the house. She also said that she was very drunk.
"I take complete responsibility and ownership," she said. "I was drunk, but that's no excuse."
Pongracz said that she is aware that what she did to Herchenrider that night led to his death.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Ayers argued for a long sentence due to the aggravated nature of the incident, noting that Pongracz was a young, healthy woman who knew that Herchenrider was in frail health at the time.
"That health and strength difference makes this as aggravated as it is," she said.
Ayers also said pointed out that Pongracz had a record of convictions for drug possession and failed to comply with court-ordered treatment.
"She ignored the orders of every court she appeared before," Ayers said.
Hogeland asked Judge James Updike to go below the sentencing guidelines, because they were irrelevant in this case. Hogeland said that she was "plucked from an entry level job" and offered a job that she wasn't qualified for.
"She was seduced by a man 50 years her senior fresh out of high school," he said, comparing Herchenrider's behavior to that of a sexual predator grooming his victim.
Judge Updike sentenced Pongracz to 25 years in prison with 10 years suspended. Pongracz, who has been in custody since she was arrested in 2010, will receive credit for time already served. Conditions of release include five years supervised probation and 10 years good behavior and to refrain from consuming alcohol.
"We are very disappointed," commented Hogeland, who said he had hoped for a lower sentence.
"Historically, we have known Judge Updike to stay within the [sentencing] guidelines," said Ayers.
Ayers said that she would have liked a longer sentence, but is satisfied with the one imposed by Judge Updike.