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Man who ran over wife with van sentenced

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Atkinson (The Spokesman-Review)

Richard A. Atkinson got 50 years in prison Friday for what Judge Robert Austin said was one of the worst murders he has seen in 23 years on the bench.

Austin gave Atkinson nine years beyond his standard 41-year maximum because Atkinson deliberately chased down his estranged wife, 29-year-old Andrea Atkinson, with a van and ran over her repeatedly as their children watched.

Under state law, an act of domestic violence in the presence of the victim’s children is an aggravating factor that opens the door to more severe punishment.

Austin found Atkinson guilty of that aggravating factor in a non-jury trial last month. He also found the 33-year-old defendant guilty of first-degree murder, three counts of second-degree assault and one count of reckless endangerment.

Atkinson got maximum sentences for the assault and reckless endangerment convictions, but they will be served concurrently with the murder sentence.

The assault counts were for deliberately crashing his van into the one his wife was driving, knowing that their three children – now 4, 6 and 8 years old – were in his wife’s van. The reckless endangerment conviction was because Atkinson’s 10-year-old daughter from a previous relationship was riding with him.

The murder occurred April 12, 2004. Testimony indicated Atkinson spotted his wife’s van near the NorthTown Mall and engaged in a vehicle-bashing chase that ended in Viktor Lavrov’s front yard at 304 E. Princeton. Andrea Atkinson ran off the road there and had just gotten the last of her children to safety in Lavrov’s yard when her husband rammed Lavrov’s chain-link fence twice to break it down and run over her.

Lavrov testified Richard Atkinson got out of his van, shook his wife as though to determine whether she was dead and then dropped the woman and fled.

“I can’t imagine what those children were thinking,” Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll said Friday. “I can’t imagine how they’re going to deal with this for the rest of their lives.”

Assistant Public Defender John Whaley argued that Atkinson shouldn’t get an above-standard murder sentence because he also was convicted of assaulting his children. Driscoll said the charges involved separate issues. He said there could scarcely be a stronger case for extra punishment under the domestic-violence rule. Legislators “couldn’t have dreamed up something like this” when they drafted the law for less egregious cases, he said.

If people saw such a crime in a movie, they “would be shocked and say this couldn’t really happen,” Driscoll said.

Andrea Atkinson’s father, Jim Novick, called for the maximum possible sentence. Andrea was his only daughter, Novick said, and she reminded him of his late wife, especially “her beautiful smile and her friendly, outgoing personality.”

Richard Atkinson didn’t speak, but his mother, Teresa Atkinson, pleaded for mercy.

“I don’t know if I’m going to be around when he gets out if you give him any maximum sentence,” she told Austin. “I’m already 57 years old.”

Atkinson’s older sister, Rachel Atkinson, who is raising his children now, said Atkinson “is not a monster.” He loved his wife and loves his children, she said.

Austin said Atkinson didn’t strike him as a monster, either.

“The testimony that came out at trial is that you are a loving father and for the most part a pretty committed husband,” the judge told Atkinson.

“What went wrong?” Austin asked. “Unfortunately, it’s something we see a lot in society: a combination of rage and alcohol and/or drugs.”

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