JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Jacksonville man convicted of killing his wife in 1993 and burying her in the backyard of their home -- where her remains were found two decades later by the couple's son -- will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Last month, a jury found Michael Haim guilty of second-degree murder in the 1993 disappearance and death of his 23-year-old wife, Bonnie Haim.
In 2014, her skull and other remains were found after their son, Aaron Fraser, took possession of his boyhood home two decades later and was digging in the backyard while doing home repairs.
Bonnie Haim's family expressed relief Tuesday after Circuit Judge Steven Whittington sentenced Michael Haim to life in prison -- just one day after Bonnie Haim would have turned 50 years old.
“While he remained free, our safety was always in question. Now, our family can focus on healing,” Bonnie Haim's sister, Liz Peak, said, reading a statement the family had prepared. "We stand here united. And we will continue to support and love each other as we remember Bonnie's life and not her death."
Michael Haim's attorney said he will appeal the sentence within 30 days and he wants a new trial for his client.
During the sentencing hearing last week, Bonnie Haim's family said they wanted Michael Haim to spend at least 26 years in prison -- the amount of time he'd walked free after taking Bonnie's life.
Peak said her family was relieved by the judge's sentence because they will no longer have to live in fear of the day Michael Haim would be freed. Aaron Fraser testified in court that he slept with a brick under his pillow for protection.
"For 26 years, we wanted justice. And now we have it," Peak said. "We got justice. But we don't have Bonnie.
"We're just going to take it one day at a time and learn what it feels like not to have to keep searching anymore," she added. "I don't know what closure really feels like yet. I don't think any of us do. We'll get there."
Prosecutors were obviously pleased that the judge sentenced Haim to the maximum sentence under current guidelines, not the lesser maximum of 22 years that was in place when the crime was committed.
"Thank God our legislature changed the guidelines system in 1998 and that actually doesn’t happen anymore," Assistant State Attorney Alan Mizrahi said. "Judges don’t have to exceed guidelines, because the statutory maximum is the top of the guidelines, so to speak. I think back in the 90s, the early 90s before the change, it was rare, but it wasn’t uncommon.”
During Friday's sentencing hearing, prosecutors played a slideshow of Bonnie Haim's life, which ends with a video showing her and Aaron on the Christmas before her death. For a moment, she looks into the camera as Aaron shares a hug with her. It's one of the few happy memories he has of his mother.
Peak said Bonnie Haim was a loving mother who enjoyed life and was always protecting her son.
PHOTOS: Bonnie Haim's life, legacy
In his victim impact statement, Aaron said he lived in constant fear that his father would "come for him."
"I was the one person on this planet that had knowledge of what he had done and could stand in the way of his liberty," Aaron Fraser said.
Fraser said his fear grew when he unearthed his mother's remains on Dec. 14, 2014. He found some relief Aug. 24, 2015, when his father was arrested on a charge of murder. But when his father bonded out of jail four months later, the anxiety returned.
With Tuesday's sentence, Peak said that Aaron and the family can finally have peace. And with Bonnie's remains no longer needed as evidence, she can be given a proper burial.
One her family has waited 26 years to give her.
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