ANACONDA, Mont. — A Montana judge sentenced a Washington state man Friday to life in prison without parole for killing and dismembering his 3-year-old son after his wife threatened to leave him and take the child.
Jeremy Brent Cramer, 38, pleaded guilty in December to deliberate homicide in the July 8 slaying of Broderick Cramer, who was to turn 4 two days later. Cramer had taken the boy from their Lacey, Wash., home that morning after a confrontation with his wife, Nataliya, and killed him 5 miles southeast of Anaconda, Mont.
Prosecutors and Cramer's public defenders had reached a plea agreement that recommended life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years. District Judge Loren Tucker removed any option of parole, saying the brutality of the crime deserved the harshest punishment possible.
"We're dealing with ... the gruesome, horrible, dismembered butchery of a child. Your child. It's almost impossible to fathom the gravity of that crime," Tucker said.
Prosecutors said they did not have a sufficient legal foundation to argue for the death penalty.
Cramer nodded slightly as the judge handed down the sentence. Moments earlier, he told Tucker that he had accepted there is no punishment too great for the crime he committed, and that he was sorry for the shame he had brought to his family.
"I love my son and my wife with all my heart, and this is something I have to live with," he said.
The horrifying details of the boy's death emerged for the first time Friday, as prosecutors and investigators described what happened on July 8.
Cramer had argued with his wife that morning, and she had told him that he would lose his family if he didn't get his act together, Assistant Attorney General Brant Light said.
Cramer was $30,000 in debt, couldn't hold steady work and was using — and likely abusing — prescription drugs, Light said.
They had a similar argument the week before, and Cramer told her then that she may leave, but she wouldn't take their son, Light said.
That morning, after the confrontation, Cramer snatched the boy, took his wife's cellphone and drove away from their Lacey home. Nataliya Cramer dug up an old cellphone and called police that afternoon after her husband would not respond to calls or text messages.
Cramer drove to southwestern Montana and ran out of gas near the town of Anaconda. A couple driving past told investigators they saw the truck and Cramer carrying the boy on his shoulders off the road.
In the field, Cramer struck the boy's head with a large rock, which likely killed him, Light said.
Then, Cramer used a large fixed knife to cut the boy's throat and nearly severed his head doing so, said Tara Billteen, a parole officer who conducted the presentencing investigation.
The boy's organs were removed and found nearby, Billteen said. The body had been cut in two, and the two halves were found a foot apart, lead investigator John Sullivan said.
Cramer hitchhiked to a gas station, where he was arrested while washing blood from his clothes, Light said. Authorities learned there was a boy with him only after they called Nataliya Cramer at home.
Police officers started a search that intensified after Cramer told his father and brother in recorded phone calls from the jail that he had killed the boy and his body was in a field.
Investigators found the abandoned truck and the boy's body the next day.
They also found on Cramer an empty container for a generic substitute of the stimulant Adderall that had been filled five days earlier.
Cramer had overdosed on methamphetamine when he was 17 and had continuing drug and alcohol problems, Light said.
Public defender Sherry Stadler said she didn't dispute anything prosecutors and investigators said, but it was apparent that Cramer was on drugs when he killed his son.
"He has asked us again and again and again if we can tell him why he did this. We can't," Stadler said.
Billteen read a statement from Nataliya Cramer, who was not in the courtroom, in which she said her world has ended and her only hope is that she and Brody will be reunited when she dies.
She called Cramer an animal and she can't believe she lived with him for five years.
"Why did he do this? Why did he hurt a boy who loved him with all his heart?" her statement said.