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A Jackson County man, who previously said his wife died after she fell and hit her head, has admitted he killed her during an argument last August.

James Michael Kiser pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Wednesday as part of a plea deal with Kanawha County prosecutors.

James Kiser, 41, apologized to the family of his late wife, Crystal Kiser, before Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom sentenced him to 20 years in prison with credit for the 307 days he’s spent at South Central Regional Jail, per the terms of Kiser’s plea deal.

Kanawha sheriff’s deputies arrested James Kiser in September and charged him with first-degree murder and concealment of a deceased human body.

Prosecutors Don Morris and Maryclaire Akers agreed to drop the concealment charge in exchange for Kiser pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

On Wednesday, James Kiser told Bloom he killed Crystal Kiser in her grandmother’s house during a heated argument while he was remodeling the house. He did not say how he killed Crystal Kiser.

Crystal Kiser, 37, had asked James Kiser for a divorce in August 2019 and was staying in her grandmother’s home when she disappeared, Morris said last year.

She was missing for about a month before authorities recovered her remains in a shallow grave in Kentuck in southern Jackson County.

James Kiser first told investigators Crystal Kiser fell and hit her head while they argued in her grandmother’s home, but during the same interview he later said she fell and hit her head on a rock outside of the home, according to the criminal complaint filed in Kanawha Magistrate Court.

Crystal Kiser’s body showed no signs of a skull fracture, Morris said during a hearing in September.

During a hearing in October, Morris said surveillance footage showed James Kiser driving past Crystal Kiser’s grandmother’s home several times on Aug. 10, the day she was last seen alive.

Morris said it was his belief that James Kiser was stalking Crystal Kiser.

Once he realized Crystal Kiser was dead, James Kiser told deputies he took her body to a remote location in Kenna and buried her there, and he led authorities to that location, where her body was recovered in September, according to the criminal complaint.

Crystal Kiser filed domestic violence petitions against James Kiser in 2003 and 2007, Morris said in October. In one of the petitions, she reported her husband had choked her, Morris said.

James Kiser was convicted of domestic battery in Fayette County in 1998 for hitting his then-girlfriend in the head with a rock, Morris said last year.

Kiser originally was charged with malicious assault, but pleaded guilty to domestic battery as part of a plea deal, Morris said.

The case flamed tension between James and Crystal Kiser’s families on social media and outside of the courtroom. In November, members of both families stood outside of the Kanawha Judicial Annex and shouted at each other from the sidewalks along the intersection of Virginia and Court streets.

Kanawha prosecutors declined to comment on the case, citing the tension between the families, other than to commend Kanawha sheriff’s investigators for their work on the case.

Reach Lacie Pierson at lacie.pierson@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @laciepierson on Twitter.