Public Safety

Jury finds Hillary Hunziker of Independence guilty of murder in ex-husband's stabbing death

Defense argued she was insane at the time

Murder defendant Hillary Hunziker, right, with defense attorney Laura Gavigan, sits at the defense table Tuesday in Buch
Murder defendant Hillary Hunziker, right, with defense attorney Laura Gavigan, sits at the defense table Tuesday in Buchanan District Court after a jury verdict finding her guilty was read. (Jeff Reinitz/Waterloo Courier)

INDEPENDENCE — Hillary Lee Hunziker stood quietly Tuesday as she heard the verdict convicting her of first-degree murder in the 2017 stabbing of her ex-husband, Jason Hunziker.

Behind her, his family and friends watched, also in silence.

It took jurors a little more than an hour to find the 34-year-old Independence woman guilty, rejecting the defense’s claim of insanity.

Prosecutors said Hillary Hunziker entered 39-year-old Jason Hunziker’s rural Independence home in the early morning hours of Nov. 6, 2017, and stabbed him repeatedly.

Hillary Hunziker’s attorney asked jurors to find her not guilty by reason of insanity, and testimony at trial pitted two mental health experts against each other.

A licensed mental health counselor called by the state testified that Hillary Hunziker knew right from wrong and was able to formulate a plan to kill her ex and follow through with it.

The counselor noted she had bought supplies before the attack and took measures to evade police — turning off her headlights as she drove to Robins, where she was captured — afterward.

The defense, however, presented testimony from a forensic psychiatrist who noted Hillary Hunziker had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and had seven mental health hospitalizations in the three years leading up to the slaying. The defense said she had run out of sleep medication days before the slaying and was suffering from sleep deprivation that lead to a psychotic episode.

Most of the facts of the case weren’t disputed.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Hillary Hunziker had been hospitalized for mental health issues several times, often claiming a delusion that her former husband, who was granted custody in the divorce, was sexually abusing and starving their 9-year-old son. That aspersion had been shown to be incorrect.

The day before the stabbing, she had been in Minnesota with her son and mother for a family baptism.

On the drive back, Hillary Hunziker told her mother about plans for the son should anything happen to her and her ex. Her mother, worried her daughter might hurt herself, suggested she check into a hospital.

Instead, at about 2:40 a.m., Hillary Hunziker bought two knives and a flashlight at Walmart. At about 4:30 a.m. she arrived at Jason Hunziker’s home. She parked away from the address and approached through a ditch to avoid detection. Once in the doorway, she paused to collect her nerves, according to her statements to mental health professionals.

According to the statements, Jason Hunziker was awake when she entered the bedroom, and he exclaimed, “Holy (expletive), what are you doing here?”

During the attack, he called for their son, who was in another room, to call 911 and then told his former wife she was going to prison. She responded that he was going to hell.

Jason Hunziker suffered about 20 sharp force injuries, including a stab wound that entered his jugular vein.

Fleeing, Hillary Hunziker phoned her mother in Robins to tell her she and her son were coming over — and if she didn’t let them inside, she was going to ram the door.

Hillary Hunziker wanted the son taken to live with maternal relatives in Minnesota, and had possibly planned to take her own life, according to testimony.

Her mother called police, who pulled up as Hillary Hunziker arrived covered in blood.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Hillary Hunziker first told officers she was dressed for Halloween but then admitted she had killed her ex-husband, again claiming he was a molester.

First-degree murder is punishable by mandatory life in prison without parole. Sentencing will be at a later date.

A finding of not guilty by reason of insanity would have triggered committal to a mental health institute for an evaluation followed by hearings to determine if she was a danger to herself or others.

The son is now living with paternal relatives.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.