JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Twenty-six years after Bonnie Haim disappeared, five years after her now-grown son discovered her body buried in the yard of his boyhood home, it took less than 90 minutes for a jury to find Michael Haim guilty of second-degree murder.
Assistant State Attorney Mac Heavener told a jury Friday morning that the prosecution had proven Michael Haim killed his 23-year-old wife in 1993, adding, "(He) shouldn't benefit from doing such a good job of burying (her) that she wasn't found until a quarter-century later."
Haim's defense attorney, Tom Fallis, who maintained throughout the trial that the state didn't have enough proof to convict Haim, countered.
"Michael Haim is not guilty, not because I say he's not, but because that's what the law is in this case," Fallis told the jury. "You will find a lot of reasonable doubt in this case."
Both sides urged the three men and three women hearing the case to use common sense in deciding if Haim is guilty of killing his 23-year-old wife. It didn't take long for them to return a unanimous verdict.
UNCUT: Guilty verdict read in court
"This case has been about finding the truth and seeking justice for Aaron and everyone who loved Bonnie Haim,” State Attorney Melissa Nelson said. "Both were achieved today."
Normally, the court would have adjourned immediately, but after a discussion with the lawyers, Circuit Judge Steven Whittington ruled that 1993 sentencing guidelines would be used to determine Haim's punishment. Those rules required the jury to decide on aggravating factors to consider in determining the length of sentence. Under current law, that only takes place in death penalty cases.
The jury returned to the courtroom to hear testimony from victims concerning and heard arguments concerning four factors in this case, including whether the crime was committed during the presence of a family member, caused emotional pain or was particularly heinous, or that evidence was tampered with.
The couple's son, Aaron Fraser, and Bonnie Haim's older sister, Liz Mahoney Peak, made brief, emotional statements about how the crime changed their lives.
"I think anyone can imagine, even if it's not a loved one, finding a skull, picking it up, just what that would do to somebody. Not to mention, it's your mother," Fraser said.
Asked if that was the only physical interaction he remembered with his biological mother, he answered, "Yes."
After another short deliberation, the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that three of the four aggravating factors were present in his case.
The judge will sentence Haim on May 17. While the 90s guidelines call for seven to 22 years in prison on a conviction for second-degree murder, prosecutors said they will push for a life sentence.
A one-week trial
Over the first four days, the jury heard from Fraser, who was 3½ years old when his mother disappeared. At the time he told a child welfare worker, “Daddy shot Mommy," according to a 2015 arrest affidavit.
Fraser testified Tuesday about digging up his mother's skull 21 years later while fixing up the Haim family home that he had been awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit against his father.
“I picked up the coconut object, and it ended up being the top portion of her skull,” he said in court Tuesday.
DNA tests confirmed the remains were those of Bonnie Haim and a medical examiner concluded she died from a homicide “by unspecified means,” according to the affidavit.
A spent shell casing found where Bonnie Haim was buried was the same type of caliber as a rifle that Haim owned, the affidavit said.
According to the affidavit that led to Haim's arrest in 2015, he was abusive to his wife and she had made plans to move into an apartment with their son while Haim was away on a trip. She had secretly opened a bank account, and when Haim found out about it and made her close it, she started giving money to a trusted friend to hold for her.
Haim, 53, testified Thursday about the night his wife disappeared and he thought she had gone to her mother's house until he went by there three hours later and didn't find her car. He didn't call police, who learned about Bonnie Haim's disappearance when a maintenance worker reported finding her purse in a dumpster of an airport hotel.
"I loved my wife. I would never hurt my wife," Haim told the court just before the defense rested its case.
Prosecutors, along with most court observers, were surprised that Haim took the stand in his own defense. They don't know if that helped or hurt his case, but it didn't appear to change the outcome.
"The case was always strong, even before we found Bonnie's remains," Assistant State Attorney Alan Mizrahi said after leaving the courtroom Friday. "There was significant evidence pointing toward Michael Haim as the defendant. Once we found the remains where we found them, that was the last piece to a puzzle that we were able to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt."