Admitted killer Ann Miller Kontz can't have face-to-face visits with her 7-year-old daughter without court approval but can have limited telephone contact, a Wilmington judge ruled Thursday.
District Judge Phyllis Gorham's order fell short of the request from Clare Miller's paternal grandparents, Verus and Doris Miller, who wanted Kontz permanently barred from any form of contact with her child. The Millers are the parents of Kontz's first husband and Clare's father, Eric Miller, a pediatric AIDS researcher who was poisoned with arsenic in 2000.
Gorham's order set strict boundaries on the contact that will be allowed between the child and Kontz, now serving a 25-year prison sentence after admitting to poisoning her husband.
Kontz isn't allowed to call Clare, attorneys involved in the case said. All telephone contact must be initiated by the child's primary custodians, Danielle and Dan Wilson of Wilmington. Danielle Wilson is Kontz's younger sister.
The judge's ruling also left the Wilsons firmly in charge of the child's day-to-day care and allows them to petition the court if they think it is in Clare's best interest to resume visits with her mother, who is serving time at the N.C. Correctional Institution in Raleigh. The child hasn't seen her mother since March.
"She really left the door open," Al Clyburn, Kontz's attorney, said of Gorham. "This much was clear -- she really trusts that Dan and Danielle are acting in Clare's best interest and are going to make good decisions for Clare."
A plan for the families
Gorham's order set a visitation schedule for the Millers, of Cambridge City, Ind., and their daughter and her husband, Pam and Rich Baltzell, who live in Kentucky. The child will stay with either the Millers or Baltzells for 18 days during the summer and three days at Christmas. In addition, they can visit the child in Wilmington on three weekends during the school year.
The Baltzells and Millers are also allowed to call Clare every Sunday night and have access to the child's school and dental records, said their attorney, Robert Ponton Jr. of Raleigh.
"To some, these things may seem insignificant, but to my folks, they are huge," Ponton said. "They're going to have a guaranteed weekly contact with Clare so she will always remember them and always remember her father, Eric."
Gorham's ruling followed a three-day hearing last week during which child psychologists dueled over whether Clare should be quickly told her mother killed her father. They also disagreed whether the child would be helped or psychologically harmed by resuming her visits with Kontz. Gorham didn't rule on either issue.
It was the latest chapter in a long-running saga that included a love triangle, a suicide and death by a poison that criminologists say was once the weapon of choice for women who commit murder.
Within days of Eric Miller's death in December 2000, Derril H. Willard Jr., a co-worker of Kontz, was found dead in his garage of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Kontz and Willard, both married to other people, were lovers, prosecutors said.
Autopsy reports showed Eric Miller received at least two doses of arsenic, one of them while he was in the hospital and visited by his wife. After a lengthy legal battle that went to the state Supreme Court, Willard's attorney was forced to reveal what his client told him: Kontz injected a syringe of arsenic-laced fluid into Eric Miller's intravenous line.
Kontz moved to Wilmington and married Christian rock guitarist Paul Martin Kontz in 2003. In November 2005, she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the death of Eric Miller, a college sweetheart she met at Purdue University.
Kontz didn't attend last week's hearing before Gorham because she wanted the judge to stay focused on her daughter -- not her. In the end, that is what Gorham did.
"This is not about Ann," said Jim Lea, attorney for the Wilsons. "It's about Clare."
Staff writer Jim Nesbitt can be reached at 829-8955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.