TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An appeals court has upheld the murder conviction and life sentence of a Jacksonville man whose wife’s disappearance went unsolved for two decades before her remains were found by their son.
A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal on Friday upheld the second-degree murder conviction of Michael Haim, whose wife, Bonnie, disappeared in 1993. Their son, Aaron, found her skull and other remains in 2014 while demolishing an outdoor shower at the home where they had lived.
Haim, now 55, was found guilty in 2019 of killing his wife and sentenced to life in prison in a case that drew heavy attention in Northeast Florida. He is an inmate at Madison Correctional Institution, according to the state Department of Corrections website.
In the appeal, Haim argued, in part, that a statement made by their son to a child-protection team after Bonnie Haim’s disappearance --- a statement made when the son was 3 years old --- should not have been allowed into the trial. Also, he argued that a .22-caliber shell casing found near the remains should have been excluded from the trial and that he should not have received a life sentence.
But the panel, in an 11-page opinion, rejected the arguments. It said police had always suspected Haim in the murder of Bonnie Haim, whose purse was found in a dumpster at a hotel near Jacksonville International Airport and whose car was found in an airport parking lot.
“The victim’s friends reported that she was planning to leave Haim and take their son with her,” the opinion, written by Judge Lori Rowe and joined by Judges M. Kemmerly Thomas and Rachel Nordby, said. “Haim admitted that he and the victim argued the night before she disappeared. And the day after her disappearance, a child protection team member interviewed Aaron. The child made statements that further implicated his father. But Haim was never prosecuted, in part, because the victim could not be found. The case remained cold until 2014.”
The child’s statement indicated that he saw Haim injure Bonnie Haim. The appeals court said Circuit Judge Steven Whittington properly denied Haim’s attempt to keep the statement out of the trial.
The opinion said that what is known as a sentencing “scoresheet” recommended Haim receive seven to 22 years in prison. But under sentencing guidelines at the time of the murder, Whittington was able to depart from those guidelines so long as he issued an order that gave a written explanation.
The decision to sentence Haim to life in prison, at least in part, stemmed from the crime inflicting “severe physical or emotional trauma” on the couple’s son.
“The record supports the trial court’s conclusion that Aaron suffered severe emotional trauma from his mother’s murder,” the appeals-court opinion said. “Aaron not only witnessed the murder, but it also led to him being separated from his entire biological family. After the murder, Aaron was adopted by non-family members. He has been in therapy since the murder, and he still suffers from depression. Aaron had to endure not knowing what happened to his mother for over 20 years before discovering her skeletal remains in the backyard of his childhood home. The record also supports the trial court’s conclusion that the victim’s family suffered severe emotional trauma from not knowing what happened to the victim for over 20 years.”
While it was not addressed in the opinion, Jacksonville media reports said the son, whose name is now Aaron Fraser, won a wrongful-death lawsuit against Michael Haim. Part of that lawsuit involved receiving his childhood home, where he subsequently found his mother’s remains while doing renovation work.