By Lisa Pett
Andrew Pray, the Plover man who beat his stepfather to death with a baseball bat in their home last Memorial Day was sentenced to life in prison for the crime today in Portage County Court.
Pray, 33, attacked Christopher Bonnstetter, 77, while he slept on the floor of the home they shared with Pray’s mother, Jennifer.
Bonnstetter was struck in the head at least three times in what prosecutors called a “brutal, premeditated act.” The assault caused such violent damage that it left Bonnstetter in a coma. He died three days later in a Marshfield hospital of his injuries.
A Portage County jury found Pray guilty of 1st degree intentional homicide in March after a week-long trial in which Pray’s defense team attributed the attack to a history of verbal and emotional abuse by Bonnstetter. That abuse, said defense attorney Nathan Otis, caused Pray, who suffers from a variety of mental health issues, to “snap.”
“In this case,” said Assistant District Attorney Cass Cousins, who tried the case for the District Attorney’s office,”the life sentence was a forgone conclusion. The only thing to be decided on was the length of time before [Pray] would be eligible to petition for extended supervision or parole.”
ADA Cousins requested a 40 year term before Pray would be eligible for parole, while Otis requested a shorter period of 20 years. Pray’s father, Steven Pray testified on his son’s behalf at the sentencing, outlining what he characterized as the mental and emotionally abusive environment in the home as being part of the reason for the attack.
Pray’s mother, Jennifer, also made a statement in which she called Bonnstetter a bully and an abusive personality, relentlessly harping on her son for small mistakes and making his life miserable inside the home.
ADA Cousins read letters from two of Bonnstetter’s daughters as well as family friends who painted a picture of a beloved, caring father and grandfather who will be sorely missed. He called Pray’s unusually dependent relationship with his mother “toxic” and “poisonous” and a factor in her son’s actions.
Judge Thomas Eagon, when issuing the sentence referenced Pray’s own testimony at trial, calling his account of the attack “chilling.”
“[By his actions] he would force his mother to choose between Mr. Bonnstetter and Mr. [Andrew] Pray,” said Judge Eagon. “He knew she would choose him.”
Pray gave a statement to the court in which he said, “Every day I think about my actions that caused Chris’ death. I am very sorry for my actions. [My] regret is that I cannot change the finality of my actions and I will do my best to acknowledge my mistake.”
Taking into account Pray’s lack of any prior criminal record and a combination of mental health diagnoses, Judge Eagon sentenced Pray to life in prison but with the possibility of parole after an initial 20 years confinement. He said that the possibility of parole was just that–an opportunity that Pray could gain release after 20 years but did not guarantee it. He would have to prove to the department of corrections that he was not a danger to society.
“Mr. Pray will be under supervision for the rest of his life,” said Eagon.