INDEPENDENCE — Jurors are now tasked with determining if Hillary Lee Hunziker was insane when she stabbed her former husband to death in his home in 2017 and took off with their 9-year-old son.
Deliberations in her first-degree murder trial began Monday after a forensic psychiatrist testified it was his opinion that the 34-year-old Independence woman was psychotic at the time.
“She believed that the only way to save her son was to kill her ex-husband. While she may have recognized that it was legally wrong, she felt it was morally correct,” Dr. Thomas Gratzer testified for the defense in a video deposition played Monday.
Gratzer noted Hunziker had seven mental health hospitalizations in the three years leading up to the slaying, and had been diagnosed with schizoaffective and bipolar disorders.
Authorities say Hillary Hunziker entered 39-year-old Jason Hunziker’s rural Independence home, stabbed him while he was in bed and drove off with their son Nov. 6, 2017, to her mother’s house in Robins.
Defense attorney Laura Gavigan asked jurors to find her client not guilty by reason of insanity, saying she was driven by delusions that her ex was sexually abusing the boy — even though the abuse claims had been disproved before the attack.
Testimony showed that Hillary Hunziker planned to have their son taken to Minnesota to be raised by her brother and sister-in-law. She would then kill herself, hoping to be reincarnated as her son’s sibling.
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“These acts weren’t those of a cold and calculated criminal mastermind but rather the perfect storm of events that took someone who was barely hanging onto mental stability and pushed them over the edge,” Gavigan said.
Gavigan said Hillary Hunziker had been on antipsychotic and sleep medications. Days before the killing, she had run out of the sleep medication and was having trouble refilling the prescription, Gavigan said.
On the night of the slaying, Hillary Hunziker had been traveling home after attending a baptism in Minnesota and was suffering from sleep deprivation, Gavigan argued.
Assistant Iowa Attorney General Susan Krisko argued that mental illness doesn’t mean insanity. While Hillary Hunziker had mental health issues, the evidence at trial showed she still was able to carry out her plan to kill her ex.
“She had the capacity to know her actions were legally wrong when she committed them,” Krisko said. “She knew this was a human being. She knew she was going to end his life, and she knew she was stabbing him with a knife to do that. She knew the consequences of repeatedly stabbing him would end in death.”
During trial, a licensed mental health counselor testified for the prosecution she found Hillary Hunziker was sane — because she paused at her ex’s doorway to build up the courage to enter and attack him and abandoned a plan to gut him when she realized a 911 call had been placed.
She also took steps to avoid detection from law enforcement while driving away, turning off her headlights and occasionally pulling over.
Jurors return Tuesday to continue deliberations.