Donna Kristofak was terrified and letting the court know it. John S. Kristofak, who was her husband for 19 years, had been arrested six months earlier as he chased her in a Wal-Mart parking lot. In his car were a butcher’s knife and what police called “a suicide note.”
During a court hearing Oct. 12, Mrs. Kristofak begged a Cobb County judge not to release him from jail. “I fear for my life,” she told Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs, telling the judge that a court-issued order of protection would not stop her crazed ex-spouse.
Early Thursday, fugitive squads arrested Kristofak, 58, after a short struggle at a Motel 6 in Union City, ending a publicized five-day manhunt. He was charged with doing exactly what he’d promised earlier this year: murder.
Late Saturday morning, Kristofak allegedly entered the garage of his 48-year-old ex-wife’s East Cobb home and stabbed her once in the upper torso, according to a warrant. She died later at a hospital.
Kristofak apparently alluded to an intention to kill himself. “Let me say by the time you get this (I) will be dead,” wrote a man identifying himself as Kristofak in an e-mail to a Marietta Daily Journal reporter. “There is no justifying what I did and I’m sure I will burn in hell for it.”
Mrs. Kristofak’s sister, Kathy Nottleman, said she was glad he didn’t kill himself “because now he can suffer for the rest of his life.”
Nottleman said the family remained fearful while Kristofak was on the run. “Now we can try to go through the grief process like normal people,” she said.
Donna and John Kristofak had two sons together and he had another, older son. John started a cellular phone company in the 1990s and later, a mortgage firm. But the couple filed for bankruptcy in 2007.
Donna, acting as her own attorney, divorced John in August 2011 and got a restraining order a month later.
But in March, he started harassing his ex-wife, according to court documents, repeatedly calling her workplace using “vile, vulgar language to her and her coworkers.”
He allegedly sent an e-mail March 19 saying, “You are in danger — protect yourself. No one can help you at this point. You won’t know where it is coming from.” Then another, “I warned you never cut me off from my children. You did and you will pay, ” according to an arrest warrant from March. “I am not living past tonight so I will do anything to get you back.”
On March 26, he erected posters in front of her house accusing her of “vile, vulgar sexual things,” a warrant states. One of their teen-aged sons found the posters.
Three days later, he was arrested at the Wal-Mart parking lot as she “frantically called for help.”
Kristofak remained in jail until October, when he cut a plea deal with the court that would sentence him to seven months in jail and have him serve the rest of the 5-year term on probation.
According to the transcript of the guilty plea Oct. 12, Donna Kristofak told the judge: “I definitely want a permanent order of no contact. May I also say that a protective order existed the night of the arrest and I do not feel that will necessarily bring safety.”
Judge Grubbs: “I understand that. It’s a little different with a TPO and filing a protective order. … If he violates the order in this case he gets picked up by the probation violation and put in jail immediately.”
Mrs. Kristofak: “Yes, your honor, I respect that and thank you for that. My fear is that I may not survive that …”
“I understand,” the judge said, cutting in.
“… I fear for my life,” Mrs. Kristofak continued.
“I can’t tell you with 100 percent, I’d be lying to you and I am sorry you are in that position,” said the judge, sounding sympathetic. “But whatever I do, you can go out and, you’ve got that risk but you will have that … copy of the protective order so the minute you get nervous about anything you call the police. … It’s as close as we can get to 100 percent.”
“Thank you, your honor,” Mrs. Kristofak said. “May I ask, your honor, that it is on the record that I fear for my life?”
“It is on the record,” said Judge Grubbs, who then threatened John Kristofak, saying she would send him to prison in an instant if he ever came near his ex-wife or tried to contact her.
In an interview Thursday, Grubbs said she could not comment on the case but added, “You cannot predict human behavior. After (the school massacre in) Newtown people ask, ‘How can we stop someone before they do something?’ We don’t do that.”
Grubbs, who has sat on the bench for 16 years, said the domestic violence cases that worry her the most are the ones where a woman tells the court that her husband didn’t mean to threaten her and she wants him back.
Jean Douglas, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence, said her organization assists in seeking more than 1,000 temporary protection orders each year in DeKalb County.
“If someone is afraid of the law, these kind of orders work; if they don’t, nothing short of jail works,” she said.
Douglas said the fact that Kristofak had a knife and suicide note when arrested in March was “a huge red flag.”
“Every one of these cases is excruciating; the victim called it right here,” she said. “She did incredibly well. She articulated exactly what he would do. He was determined to do it and no piece of paper would stop him.”