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When John and Karina Rafter first got together, the future looked bright. She was a single mother, and he became a great father to her young daughter and the two children they had together.
Their family would ultimately break apart, however, due to marital problems, alcoholism, and murder.
Born in 1968 to a devout Morman family that was active in the church, John Rafter Jr. was raised in Colonial Heights, Virginia, south of Richmond.
“He was very good at math, very good with numbers. He just understood computers very well,” his stepdaughter, Maja Parrish, told “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
John went on to work for Capital One, and his easygoing nature made him popular with his co-workers. In 2001, one of them introduced him to her friend, Karina Lewelt, and the two started dating. He quickly took to her young daughter, and it “felt like things were finally complete,” according to Maja.
“When he came around, it was like the family clicked into place,” she told “Snapped.”
After dating for several months, Karina became pregnant, and they decided to get married. A son was born in 2003, followed by a daughter a year later.
As time went on, John’s job became more demanding, and he spent long hours away from home. It took a toll on the Rafters’ marriage, and while they divorced in 2006, they quickly reconciled.
John and Karina remarried in 2014, and by this time, their younger children were in middle school, and Maja was engaged and living on her own. The old troubles resurfaced, however, and John filed for divorce in July 2016.
Although he worried about the effect the divorce would have on their children, he believed he was making the right choice, as Karina struggled with alcoholism, and they continually fought.
John, however, did not live long enough to see the divorce finalized.
On Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, the Rafters’ 13-year-old son called 911. He said his dad hadn’t woken him up for school, and after entering his bedroom, he found out why.
“I come into the room, and there’s blood everywhere … His entire face is gone. I don’t think he is alive,” he told the 911 operator.
First responders arrived at 8:45 a.m. and found John deceased, according to Richmond NBC affiliate WWBT.
“There was blood and body spatter on the walls, and there was a shotgun that was on the bed,” prosecutor Susan Parrish told “Snapped.” “John had been killed with a double barrel shotgun at close range, so you can imagine, physically, what that had done to his body.”
The gun in question was an antique, double barrel 16-gauge shotgun that had been a family heirloom. Under his pillow, detectives also found a hatchet, making them wonder if he had been anticipating an attack.
John’s son told detectives he had last seen his father the night before at 11 p.m. He said he was woken up by a loud bang earlier that morning, but he fell back asleep. When detectives asked about the shotgun lying on the bed, the boy said his father didn’t keep any guns in the house.
Hoping to narrow down the time of death, investigators examined John’s phone and found that his final outgoing text message was sent around 1 a.m., and the alarm on his phone, which was still going off when police arrived, had been set for 6 a.m.
They subsequently questioned Karina, who told them John had a history of mental health issues and had been suicidal in the past. She said that in 2015, his therapist asked Karina to remove the heirloom shotgun from their home, so she brought it to her parents’ house nearby, reported the Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper.
Karina claimed John had asked her to return the shotgun a month earlier. When she went to give it back to him, she said she had misplaced the ammunition, and so she went to Walmart to buy more shotgun shells, which she left in a bag in his garage.
Although she admitted she and John were getting divorced, Karina claimed it was amicable. She said they agreed that she would have custody of their daughter, and he would have custody of their son.
Since their separation, she had been living with her parents, and when asked where she was at the time of John’s death, she claimed she had left the house to pick up medicine for her daughter, who was sick.
Questioned about the hatchet in his bed, Karina had no explanation, telling investigators, “There’s no time that I have attacked or threatened John in the entire year.”
Others, however, weren’t so quick to believe that John had died by suicide.
“I just knew that it wasn’t a suicide. First of all, he was happy. Things were going his way. And second, he would never have left himself there for my brother to find. There was no way he would put his child through that,” Maja told “Snapped.”
After examining John’s wounds and the shotgun, the medical examiner ruled out suicide altogether.
“It would have been impossible between the trigger pull and the length of John’s arms for John to inflict those wounds upon himself,” Susan told “Snapped.”
After the homicide ruling, detectives learned that the Rafters’ divorce was anything but cordial. In John’s divorce petition, he claimed Karina was an alcoholic who had physically assaulted both children, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Following the incident, Karina had undergone counseling and attended Alcoholics Anonymous. In late 2015, however, John learned she was drinking again and threatened to call her sponsor.
“At that point, she attacked him and ultimately was arrested for domestic assault. She was convicted of assaulting John and was placed on probation,” John’s attorney, Greg Waddell, told “Snapped.”
John sought full custody of both children, which Karina challenged in a legal filing the week before his murder. Maja had also recently told her mother that she was testifying on John’s behalf at an upcoming custody hearing.
In an email to Karina on Nov. 30, 2016, her divorce lawyer advised her, “This is going to get ugly,” reported the Richmond Times Dispatch. Later that day, she went to Walmart and purchased the shells for John’s shotgun.
When detectives found the bag of shells Karina said she had left at John’s house, they discovered that her fingerprints were the only ones on it.
“This tells me that there’s nobody else who handled that bag,” prosecutor Matthew Ackley told producers. “If this in fact had been a suicide, or if someone else had taken shot shells and loaded that shotgun, I would expect their fingerprints to be on there as well.”
Speaking with investigators, John’s friends said that he was in fear for his life and that he had recently told them he was sleeping with an axe. He also said he was thinking of purchasing a gun for protection, indicating he wasn’t even in possession of the shotgun at the time of his death.
In reviewing Karina’s phone records, authorities found “pages and pages and pages of text messages between she and John,” according to Susan. “I call it desperation where she’s begging John to reconcile.”
Karina’s phone showed no location data for the time that John was murdered, not even from her supposed trip to the store.
“We think it means that she left it at home on purpose so we wouldn’t know where she was when John was killed,” Susan told “Snapped.”
While authorities built their case, Karina relocated to Florida, and it wasn’t until February 2019 that she was taken into custody and charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, reported Richmond CBS affiliate WTVR.
Karina went on trial that October and continued to maintain her innocence. Her defense team even suggested that her 13-year-old son could have been the killer, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch.
“We found absolutely no corroboration that would lead us to believe that he was involved in this murder. There’s only one person who had the motive, the means, and the opportunity to commit the murder, and that was Karina,” Ackley told “Snapped.”
After deliberating for five hours, a jury found Karina guilty of both counts. She was ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison for first-degree murder and three years for use of a firearm in the commission of the murder.
Both sentences were ordered to be served consecutively, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch.
To hear more about the case, watch “Snapped” now on Oxygen.com.
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