Anderson

Bryce Anderson, convicted in the 2015 death of his girlfriend, was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

Bryce Anderson killed Kristen Johnson’s spirit long before he took her life.

He manipulated her. He controlled her. He abused her.

“I always thought he would take care of her and protect her,” said Johnson’s younger sister, Kayla Ellis. “But he was slowly killing her from the day he met her.”

On March 1, 2015, he killed her.

“I can’t stop thinking of the pain inflicted on her,” said Johnson’s mother, Alice Ellis, “or how scared she must have been.”

Anderson, 31, will serve life in prison for Johnson’s murder under the sentence imposed Wednesday by La Crosse County Circuit Judge Elliott Levine. He is eligible to apply for release in 35 years.

“This was premeditated in that he wanted to control her,” Levine said.

Anderson struck Johnson, 28, with a hammer, fracturing her skull and face, cinched a belt tight around her neck, and cut her neck with a box cutter so deep that he nearly decapitated her at the couple’s duplex in Holmen while their two young sons were home, District Attorney Tim Gruenke said.

“He is sadistic,” Gruenke said.

Authorities found Johnson’s body in the back of a car at their home.

They also discovered a confession letter from Anderson stating he had confronted Johnson about an affair. He tried to strangle her with a belt before she swung a hammer at him.

Anderson sent cellphone pictures of her disrobed corpse to another man and fled after the killing to Jones County, Iowa, where police arrested him the next morning when his car slid into a ditch.

Anderson pleaded guilty to first-degree intentional homicide. In exchange, prosecutors agreed not to make a sentencing recommendation.

A life sentence was mandatory, but the judge could make Anderson eligible for extended supervision after 20 years in prison.

Johnson’s family asked he serve life without release, arguing Anderson stole a mother from her four children, a sister, a daughter and a friend.

“Bryce scares me just like a horror movie,” Johnson’s 10-year-old daughter said. “If he comes out of jail, he might get someone else in my family. Maybe even me.”

Johnson turned an outgoing, selfless and supportive woman into a domestic violence statistic unable to fulfill the legacy she was destined to, said her brother, Brent Ellis.

“Mr. Anderson sentenced Kristen to death,” her mother said.

Anderson is a manipulator who tortured his girlfriend until he took her life and then tried to destroy her reputation after she was dead, Gruenke said.

“Is he sorry? No,” he said. “I don’t think he knows what that means.”

Anderson’s aunt, the only person who spoke on his behalf, asked the judge grant him a chance for release.

“This tragedy, it affected so many,” Brenda Allen said. “His heart breaks for his actions.”

Anderson is horrified by and regrets the killing, said his attorney, Michael Covey. He asked the judge allow Anderson to apply for release at some point, citing his acceptance for the murder, limited criminal record and strong work history.

Anderson in his statement to the court apologized to Johnson’s family and his own. He said his actions were frightening and that he misses Johnson, despite the fact that he’s responsible for her death.

“Everyone here deserved to have more memories of and with her, which I stole,” he said.

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Anne Jungen covers law enforcement and the criminal justice system in La Crosse County. She joined the Tribune reporting staff in December 2005. You can contact her directly at ajungen@lacrossetribune.com or 608-791-8224.

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