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April 22, 2014

Man guilty of killing, dismembering girlfriend receives life without parole

By Jessica Strachan and Sherri Kolade
C & G Staff Writers

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William Dhondt, left, accused of strangling and dismembering his girlfriend in 2013, stands during his jury trial March 28 with defense lawyer Judith Gracey in Oakland County Circuit Court.

PONTIAC — Shackled in an orange prison jumpsuit, a Farmington man stood and apologized to his dead girlfriend’s family and friends for strangling her and dismembering her body in February 2013.

“I would like to say I am sorry, so sorry, to the family and friends of Kaitlin,” William Dhondt said during his April 18 sentencing in Oakland County Circuit Court. “Sorry to the family and friends of myself. So all I can say is that I’m sorry.”

Dhondt, 28, went before Judge Phyllis C. McMillen for a charge of first-degree premeditated murder in the death of his girlfriend, 29-year-old Kaitlin Hehir, in their Colchester home Feb. 23, and disinterment, mutilation, defacement or carrying away of a human body.

A jury convicted him March 28 in Oakland County Circuit Court after deliberating for about two hours. A juror read that Dhondt was found guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, punishable by imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole, and disinterment and mutilation of a dead body, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 10 years or $5,000.

Before sentencing, Hehir’s parents — Joe Hehir and Mary Hehir — stood to address the court.

They said how their daughter’s death impacted their lives.

“First, her name is Kaitlin Elizabeth Hehir. Not ‘her,’ not the ‘body,’ not ‘it,’” Joe Hehir said with his wife by his side. “She is not pot roast, nor salmon, as so gruesomely stated by William Dhondt in his confession.”

Joe Hehir went on to say that his daughter was not abusive, and that Dhondt “is very good at manipulating people.”

“He used it to full measure with Kaitlin,” he said.

Hehir said that in early 2013, his daughter told her family that she was not happy, and they knew from her that Dhondt was also aware there were significant problems in the relationship.

“We have no doubt there was an argument on Feb. 23, 2013, and words — both ugly and later deadly — were exchanged,” Joe Hehir said. “Please imagine the final minutes of Kaitlin’s life. She experienced what only could be described as the most violent, personal way in which to die.”

The father then asked if Dhondt would look to God to be his final judge.

“We challenge him to fully acknowledge to himself the barbaric nature of his actions, and to ask for God’s mercy,” he said. “Perhaps then, he will finally experience the same level of profound sorrow experienced by all of Kaitlin’s family and friends. We believe that the sentence of life without parole is a just consequence for his betrayal and murder of Kaitlin. Some of us are attempting to forgive, but our broken hearts, and the pain we experience everyday makes it almost impossible.”

The parents’ statement also noted that their daughter was a National Honor Society graduate of Mercy High School, where she was co-editor of the school newspaper. She was also a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in English Literature and History.

According to Farmington Detective Andrew Morche’s swear-to during the video arraignment held at 45-A District Court Feb. 26, 2013, Dhondt told authorities during questioning that he had hit his girlfriend and slammed her head into the floor during an argument that turned violent. Dhondt reportedly confessed that he then strangled her to death.

Dhondt then dragged her body down to the basement of their home and dismembered her. Police reportedly found her remains in various locations throughout the house.

According to a press release issued last year by the Farmington Public Safety Department, officers first responded to the home for the missing woman at 10 p.m. Feb. 23. Dhondt told officers that she had been missing since 12:30 a.m. Feb. 22, when she had left to go to a party.

Farmington Public Safety Director Robert Schulz said after Dhondt reported Hehir missing, authorities searched the home, and bloody plastic signaled foul play. Police later found her body parts tucked away throughout various parts of the house, according to court officials.

Sylvan Lake-based defense lawyer Judith Gracey said during the sentencing that the case was very difficult.

“It was not only difficult for the prosecution, but it was extremely difficult for the defense,” Gracey said.

She said Hehir died because Dhondt “snapped.” 

“There is nothing else in my mind that would describe what actually happened on that date,” she said. “Then after that, everything else was very tragic.”

Gracey said Dhondt has always been “remorseful” about the situation. She also said although the Hehir family has lost their daughter, the Dhondt family lost a son.

“I can equally say as it relates to the Dhondt side of the family, they are equally as distraught and destroyed, all from one instant that my client has said on numerous occasions that, if he could go back, he would have undone what happened in this tragic moment,” she said.

Gracey added that although Hehir’s death is a “tragic situation,” one factor overshadowed the jury’s decision, because premeditation was not revealed.

“For the most part, I don’t think the elements for premeditation was shown,” she said. “The jury found that it was, but the overwhelming factor was sympathy played a huge part in it.”

Gracey said after the sentencing that Dhondt has an automatic right to appeal, which would be done in the Michigan Court of Appeals; the date of his appeal is unkown.

Oakland County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Tricia Dare said during the jury trial that Hehir was a young woman with her whole life ahead of her.

“She was working two jobs; she was working on getting her master’s degree and surrounded by friends and family that loved her. She had absolutely no idea that the man she loved, that the man she had been in a relationship with for over three years, that the man she had recently moved in with was going to bring that all to a screeching halt.”

McMillen sentenced Dhondt to life without parole for count one and, for count two, a sentence of 17 months to 10 years; he was credited with serving 417 days.

A restitution hearing is set at 8:30 a.m. May 23 at Circuit Court.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sherri Kolade at skolade@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.