Slated for a jury trial Tuesday morning, William Martin Cronan Jr. of Clifton instead pleaded guilty to the Dec. 15 shooting death of his wife, Sigrid.
Charged with second-degree murder, Cronan, 54, could receive as much as 40 years in prison when Circuit Court Judge Dennis Smith sentences him next month.
Fairfax County police arrested him, the night of the crime, charging him with murder after finding the body of his 49-year-old wife in an upstairs bedroom of their home. She'd been shot twice in the head, and Cronan called 911 around 9:45 p.m. that night and admitted killing her.
The Cronans lived at 13209 Twin Lakes Drive, in a peaceful equestrian neighborhood off Clifton Road, near Twin Lakes Golf Course. He was a construction contractor and she boarded horses. But on Dec. 15, their lives went terribly wrong.
A Dec. 17 autopsy performed by Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Frances Field, revealed two gunshot wounds to Sigrid Cronan's head. Police found one of the bullets in the house; the second was recovered from the victim's left jaw-bone area.
Police searches of the home following the tragedy yielded a bullet, a semi-automatic handgun, a leather holster, two cartridge casings and Sigrid Cronan's Pentium III computer and its associated hardware and software, disks and drives.
Police were interested in the computer-related items because, in a Dec. 19 affidavit for a search warrant, Det. Steven Shillingford said he learned that, at the time of her death, Sigrid Cronan was using her computer to e-mail "unknown individuals." He also noted that "these electronic correspondences might have been a motive for her murder."
The grand jury indicted William Cronan on March 18, and he appeared Tuesday in Circuit Court, pleading guilty to second-degree murder. At that time, Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. introduced into evidence Cronan's 911 call, the autopsy report and the previous testimony of the first police officer arriving on the scene.
During Cronan's preliminary hearing, March 6 in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, the officer testified that Cronan was inebriated when he saw him. "In Virginia, drunkenness does not excuse murder, but it knocks out the element of premeditation needed for first-degree murder," explained Horan. "That's why I moved to amend the charge [Tuesday] to second-degree murder."
He said he wasn't surprised that Cronan chose to plea, rather than opt for a trial. "The evidence was pretty overwhelming," said Horan. "[However] he never gave us any reason why he did it. Certainly, there was some indication that the marriage was in trouble and they were going to break up, but I'd be speculating as to his motive for killing her."
Cronan has been held without bond in the Adult Detention Center since the night of the crime. He will be sentenced June 21 and, in court Tuesday, his attorney, Blair Howard, said he'll present evidence then about his client's mental health that will have a bearing on his culpability. But he said he's not going to claim that Cronan was insane at the time of the murder.