Her suspicions were justified. At the time of his arrest for the August murders, Chris, 33, was having an affair with Nichol Kessinger, a woman he met through work. Before Chris was sentenced to life in prison Monday with no parole, prosecutors cited his desire for a “fresh start” with Kessinger as his motive for strangling Shanann, 34, and smothering their daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3.
In a press conference after the sentencing, Weld County, Colorado, District Attorney Michael Rourke said Shanann picked up on “a lot of suspicious behavior” by Chris. He said she received credit card phone notifications when she was in North Carolina for Chris’ restaurant tabs in Colorado that were likely for more than one person.
“We know she confronted him about that numerous times,” said Rourke. “We know that he was never completely forthcoming with her.”
Rourke said in court that in the weeks prior to her death, Shanann — who was 15 weeks pregnant — tried to salvage their crumbling relationship, giving Chris books on self-help and relationship counseling.
But Chris had already mentally checked out of the marriage and ignored them, said Rourke, even throwing one of the books “in the garbage.”
The couple spent most of the summer in separate locales: Shanann and the girls were with her parents in North Carolina for about six weeks before she returned home briefly in August. Subsequently, she traveled to Arizona for a work trip that ended on Aug. 13, after which she and the girls were killed in Colorado.
Rourke said in court on Monday, “While Shanann texted the defendant over and over again in the days and weeks leading up to her death attempting to save her marriage, the defendant secreted pictures of his girlfriend into his phone and searched and texted her at all hours of the night.”
And while Shanann was caring for her daughters and working at her part-time sales job, Chris spent the time going to bars, restaurants, car museums and sand dunes with Kessinger as well as “searching the internet for secluded vacation spots to take his new love — and researching jewelry,” Rourke said.
“The stark contrast between the subjects of their internet and text content is absolutely stunning,” he added.
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Chris pleaded guilty on Nov. 6 to first-degree murder in the deaths of Shanann, Bella and Celeste. Chris also admitted to multiple counts of tampering with a dead body and unlawful termination of a pregnancy.
His sentence of life in prison without parole was the maximum penalty under a plea agreement with prosecutors which saw him admit his crimes in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.
After Chris’ guilty plea, Kessinger said in an interview with the Denver Post that he lied to her by saying he was in the process of getting divorced, and that she came forward to police after learning Shanann and the girls were missing.
Rourke said Kessinger was “for the most part forthcoming,” but she had deleted information with a connection with Chris from her phone, which slowed the investigation.
Kessinger said she met Chris at work in June and began a physical relationship with him in July, describing him as “very soft-spoken” and “a good listener.” But Chris’ nice-guy facade crumbled after his wife and kids went missing and Kessinger learned Shanann was pregnant.
“I thought, ‘If he was able to lie to me and hide something that big, what else was he lying about?’ ” she told the paper.