SANDPOINT — A former Bonner County man was ordered Tuesday to serve 25 years in prison for killing his wife in 2004 and embarking on a 12-year con to deceive her children and her family about her whereabouts and demise.
Stephen Mathew Lott gave sheriff’s investigators a series of shifting stories about the disappearance of Christine Lott, née Kucera, over the years. He first claimed she left to get groceries and never returned, but later said she was seen getting into a pickup truck with an unknown male. He also claimed to have taken her to her drug dealer’s house and never saw her again. Stephen Lott finally claimed he had gotten into an argument with his wife, left for an extended hike and returned to find her dead with a zip tie around her neck and a suicide note.
Stephen Lott ultimately told authorities that he disposed of her body the next day in a remote and steep section off U.S. Forest Service Road No. 499 east of Coeur d’Alene. Her remains, which were scattered by wildlife, were discovered in 2016 by a person hunting for antler sheds.
Stephen Lott, 49, was indicted by a grand jury on charges of first-degree murder and failing to notify authorities of his wife’s death. Following mediation, he pleaded guilty to the failure-to-notify charge and entered an Alford plea to an amended charge of voluntary manslaughter.
Under the terms of the Alford plea, Lott admits no culpability to the manslaughter charge but concedes he could have been convicted if he were to be tried for the offense.
Christine Lott’s sister said the extent of Stephen Lott’s lies were breathtaking and took issue with his unsubstantiated claims that his wife was an unfaithful drug user who abandoned her three biological sons.
“We gave you the benefit of the doubt and never suspected the coldness in you,” Angela Baker said.
Two of Christine Lott’s sons described being split up and stripped of a traditional childhood, including a formal education and traditional parental guidance as they moved from place to place.
“You said you were protecting us by lying to us and splitting us up,” Roy Flynn Jr. pointedly told Lott, adding that he would have to live with his mother’s killing.
Lucas Kucera said he received a letter from his former father figure which professed his innocence.
“Everybody else knows you’re lying. Why don’t you just tell the truth?” Kucera asked Lott.
Stephen Lott had no outward reaction to his former sons’ remarks.
“I am sorry for breaking y’all’s hearts. If I could go back and change it I would,” Lott said to the courtroom gallery filled with his former wife’s friends and family.
Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall said he and investigators believe Christine Lott was slain during an argument over Stephen Lott’s decision to have Ray Flynn live with his biological father in the Silver Valley after the 13-year-old attempted to break up Stephen Lott’s physical attack on his brother.
Marshall also cast doubt on Stephen Lott’s claim of losing the suicide note, an odd turn of events for a piece of exculpatory evidence that could have been copied any number of ways to ensure its preservation. Marshall added that Lott’s claim of lying to protect his wife’s memory was contradicted by his assertions that she used methamphetamine and betrayed their marital vows.
“That’s not protecting — that’s trashing her memory,” Marshall said.
Marshall recommended the maximum sentences — 15 years for manslaughter and 10 years for failing to notify. Marshall argued the terms should be served consecutively because there were two distinct crimes — the killing and the ensuing cover-up.
Public Defender Janet Whitney argued for consecutive eight-year terms and described her client’s misconduct as an aberration in an otherwise law-abiding life. The defense called clinical psychologist Dr. Phillip Hanger to testify that Stephen Lott was not suffering from any mental illnesses or substance abuse issues which could pose any danger.
“There’s no presence of maladaptive personality disorder such as borderline or antisocial personality,” Whitney said.
First District Judge Barbara Buchanan said the harm done to Christine Lott’s family was “incalculable” and his long-running deception “inexcusable.”
“You say today for the first time that you’re sorry for the hearts you’ve broken, but I’ve never seen any remorse. I haven’t seen any acceptance of responsibility. There is no doubt in this court’s mind — absolutely no doubt — that you are responsible for the death of Christine Kucera. You took her life,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan ordered Lott to serve consecutive terms of 15 and 10 years, respectively.
“In this case, I think the only appropriate sentence is the maximum sentence,” Buchanan said.
Christine Lott’s family members openly stated that the terms could amount to a lifelong prison sentence because Stephen Lott was diagnosed with autoimmune disease lupus and a related kidney condition.
In addition to the victim’s family, Sheriff Daryl Wheeler and retired Det. Sgt. Gary Johnston, the lead investigator on the protracted case, were on hand to see Lott be sentenced.
Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.