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‘Beyond explanation:’ Woman sentenced to life with parole for killing fiance, living with body for months
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Tabitha Wood enters Hall County Superior Court Friday, March 24, 2023, waiting on her sentencing for the murder of Leroy Franklin Kramer Jr. then living with the body for months. - photo by Scott Rogers

After 82-year-old Leroy Franklin Kramer Jr. began his relationship with 46-year-old Tabitha Wood, his family felt the man was being isolated. Calls became more infrequent, and his phone number was no longer in service.

At Wood’s sentencing hearing Friday, March 24, for killing Kramer, his stepdaughter, Deanna Owen, apologized to Leroy for the abuse, neglect, exploitation and “absolute hell” he lived in his last few years.

“You were led to believe that we did not care or love for you, but we did,” Owen said. “You were taken from us in a very cruel and brutal manner.”

Authorities believe Wood killed Kramer in early April. Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputies discovered Kramer’s body in June after Kramer’s family made repeated requests for a wellness check.

Wood was convicted March 17 of causing traumatic injuries to Kramer’s neck and chest, though the weapon was not specified.

The hyoid bone in Kramer’s neck and the thyroid cartilage, which is considered the front of the voice box, were severely damaged.

Wood, of Gainesville, was found guilty of malice murder, felony murder, exploitation of an elder person, concealing the death of another, financial transaction card theft and aggravated assault against a person 65 years of age or older.

She was sentenced Friday to life in prison with the chance of parole for killing her 82-year-old fiance and concealing his death for months.

At the sentencing hearing, defense attorney Jake Shapiro presented Wood’s mental health records for the judge’s consideration, which detailed disclosures of being sexually abused as a child.

While it doesn’t excuse his client’s actions at the Candler Road home, Shapiro said it does “mitigate, I think, the malicious nature of her mindset.”

While weighing the aggravating and mitigating factors before sentencing, Superior Court Judge Lindsay Burton said the information about Wood’s childhood does help explain some of the woman’s poor decision making.

However, one of the most aggravating factors was the failure to report Kramer’s death, denying his family the chance to give the 82-year-old man a proper burial, Burton said.

“But the condition in which you let this man decompose into is beyond explanation,” Superior Burton said.

Wood’s cousin testified, saying they grew up in a toxic family environment.

“Tabitha, I have to tell you: You are not the sum total of your worst days,” Wood’s cousin said.

Wood still has a purpose, her family said, as there are “blessings still to be found in the darkness.”

The prosecution brought a handful of Kramer’s family to give statements about their memories with him.

Kramer’s grandson, Josh Payne, who called Kramer “Pop Pop,” told the judge about his “storybook grandparents:” his grandfather tended to the garden while his grandmother fixed lunch or brought out a glass of lemonade.

Payne said his grandfather showed him virtues such as grace, love, forgiveness and the value of hard work.

Speaking directly to Wood, Payne said he forgave her and hoped that she finds peace.

“A murderer is not who you were created to be,” Kramer’s grandson said. “That’s not your purpose nor the plan that He has for you.”

Wood asserted self-defense in the trial, testifying across two days about being abused by Kramer.

Assistant District Attorney Rachel Bennett played a video for the court showing Kramer, head in hands and under a blanket, being berated by Wood.

Bennett asked the judge to impose a life prison sentence without the chance of parole. She described a “personal and up-close murder” of an 82-year-old man brutally beaten while getting undressed.

The prosecutor said Wood drove the wedge between Kramer and his family and then used it against him.

Through the text messages and stories Wood told to friends and Kramer’s family, Bennett pointed to the consistent lying and slandering of Kramer. For weeks after Kramer’s death, Wood impersonated him and texted a friend that she was being beaten.

“This was calculated,” Bennett said. “It was manipulative. The defense of self-defense is quite honestly insulting in my opinion.”

During the trial, Wood told the jury she possibly blacked out when questioned about Kramer’s fatal injuries. 

“It’s a real shame that someone can use domestic violence or try to use domestic violence as a justification to get out of brutally beating an 82-year-old man to death in his bedroom, because it makes it a lot harder for real victims of domestic violence to be able to share their story,” Bennett said.

Burton sentenced Wood to life in prison on malice murder with the chance of parole plus 10 consecutive years for concealing the death.

Parole cannot be considered for 30 years.