In less than 20 minutes, the man accused of killing his ex-wife at her home in east Cobb entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to life in prison.
John S. Kristofak, 58, pleaded guilty to malice murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime in Cobb Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs’ courtroom Tuesday afternoon.
Kristofak agreed to the sentence of life in prison for murdering his ex-wife Donna Nations Kristofak. He also agreed to five years on the weapon possession charge and another 10 years for violating his probation from an aggravated stalking charge in October 2012.
He is accused of shooting and killing Donna Kristofak in her van in the garage of her home in the 3900 block of Tall Pine Drive near Walton High School just before noon on Dec. 22, 2012.
This happened following the couple’s divorce in September 2011 and after almost 15 months of harassing phone calls, emails and threats by John Kristofak to his ex-wife.
According to Chief Assistant District Attorney Don Geary’s review of the facts of the case, he said John Kristofak fired two shots at his ex-wife. One hit her in the heart and the other missed and struck the car seat.
The couple’s youngest son, then 17-year-old Harrison Kristofak, heard his mother scream and ran outside only to see his father running out of the garage back to his car and drive off.
“(Harrison Kristofak) runs to the van, sees his mother. His mother says to him ‘Call 911.’ He does. Those were the last words she was ever able to say to her children,” Geary said.
Police arrived on the scene within five minutes and could not find a pulse on Donna Kristofak. She was pronounced dead at WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta and an autopsy confirmed the weapon used in the killing.
A manhunt began for John Kristofak, and after an armed robbery at a pharmacy in Fayetteville, where authorities say he stole 100 Adderall tablets, he was apprehended at a Motel 6 in Union City.
Geary said it took five officers from the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Marshals to restrain him.
In custody, John Kristofak admitted to killing Donna Kristofak.
“He was on a mission and his mission was to kill her and he intended to accomplish that,” Geary told Grubbs about the confession by John Kristofak. “He also stated that it was his idea, his plan and that he had worked on it for days.”
Kristofak, whose hair has grown almost to his shoulders since his original mug shot was taken almost six months ago, was dressed in an orange jumpsuit with shackles around his hands and feet, causing him to shuffle before Grubbs.
The only thing said by John Kristofak, who was escorted into the courtroom by six Cobb County Sheriff’s Office deputies during the hearing, was his admittance to Judge Grubbs that he is guilty of the charges and that he agrees to the negotiated plea.
John Kristofak was represented by an appointed attorney from Marietta, Mitch Durham.
There were about eight family members and friends, including Harrison Kristofak, present during the hearing, but none of them wanted to speak about the plea afterwards.
They did talk to Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds and asked a few questions about where John Kristofak would be housed and when that might happen.
Reynolds said John Kristofak would more than likely be imprisoned in the maximum security area at the Jackson State Prison south of Atlanta and reassured them that the odds of him ever being able to get out of prison again are not likely.
Reynolds also shared his contact information with Harrison Kristofak, telling him to give him a call if he ever needed anything.
Why the plea?
Reynolds said his office was called Friday about John Kristofak wanting to negotiate a plea.
“We called the family in (Monday) and went over everything with them,” Reynolds said. “Our goal was to get a life without parole sentence in this case and we explained to the family what he was willing to do.”
The Cobb D.A. said the family agreed to the plea and gave him a couple of reasons why.
“Harrison is 18 and is graduating from high school Saturday,” he said. “They wanted this behind him. John Kristofak is not eligible for parole for a 30-year time frame with a life sentence and since he’s 58 that would put him at 88 before he’s even eligible.
“The harsh reality is that he’s going to die in prison, which we believe is very appropriate in the case.”
Reynolds said he wasn’t surprised by the plea deal.
“We felt extremely confident that this was a strong case and we were very confident in our ability to convict Mr. Kristofak,” he said. “I think he realized that and I’m hoping that something inside of him didn’t want his children to go through what they’d have to go through at a trial, but in the end, he decided to take responsibility. The family unanimously told us to do it and that’s why we finished it today.”
Holly Tuchman, CEO and executive director of the YWCA of Northwest Georgia, also attended the hearing.
Her agency serves victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and was active in helping Donna Kristofak file a temporary protective order against her husband.
Tuchman was pleased that John Kristofak entered a negotiated plea, saying she believed all the evidence pointed clearly to his guilt and that it would have been tough for the family to relive the incidents in a trial.
“I can’t even imagine, sitting there today, having to listen through how all of his happened over the last two years … I think the plea deal that they worked out … (it’s) highly doubtful he will ever see the light of day,” she said.