‘Evil’ Keown found guilty of killing wife with antifreeze

Richard Conn

A jury Wednesday found James Keown guilty of first-degree murder for slowly poisoning his wife with antifreeze. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The 12-member jury deliberated a day and a half to determine that Keown, 34, poisoned his wife, Julie Oldag Keown, by lacing her Gatorade with antifreeze during late summer 2004 -- shortly after the couple moved to Waltham.

Julie Keown, 31, died on Sept. 8, 2004. An autopsy revealed she had ingested ethylene glycol, a substance commonly found in antifreeze.

Upon hearing the verdict, James Keown briefly bowed his head, but he otherwise showed little emotion.

Before Judge Sandra Hamlin handed down her sentence, she handed out a harsh indictment of Keown, a former radio host at radio station KLIK-AM in Jefferson City, Mo.

Hamlin said that the way in which Keown methodically poisoned his wife over a period of weeks made her feel that she was “truly in the presence of an evil person.''

Before Keown's sentencing, Julie's parents, Jack and Nancy Oldag, talked about about the pain they've felt since losing “one of the lights of our lives.''

Nancy Oldag lashed out at Keown, occasionally glancing over at him as she uttered her stinging words.

“In my mind, James is no longer a person,'' she said. “He is just a mass of flesh and bones taking up space on this earth. No real person would ever do such an evil thing.''

Before he was sentenced, James Keown glanced over at his mother, Betsy Keown -- who had been there for the duration of the trial -- and spoke to her briefly, seemingly to tell her he would be OK.

Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone praised the work done by prosecutors, especially Assistant District Attorney Nat Yeager, who Leone said gave “one of the most outstanding closing arguments I've ever seen.''

During Yeager's closing argument, he poked holes in the theory proffered by Keown's attorneys that Julie Keown ingested the ethylene glycol to commit suicide because she was depressed about an underlying kidney disease.

To do so, Yeager referenced e-mails Julie Keown sent to friends in the days before her death, in which she spoke optimistically about any sign that her health was improving, repeatedly using the old saying “knock on wood.''

“When Nat Yeager got up and spoke on behalf of Julie Keown, you thought she was there,'' Leone said.

Yeager said the most damning evidence against James Keown was the computer forensics analysis of his Sony Vaio laptop, which revealed Keown surfed the Web for ways to buy or make various poisons -- just days before his wife's death.

Yeager called the meticulous research James Keown did on how to murder his wife “truly horrifying.''

Prosecutors claimed that Keown killed his wife to cash in on her $250,000 life insurance policy because he was drastically in debt after being fired from his Web-design job in Kansas City, Mo., at the Learning Exchange, an educational consulting company. Yeager said that Keown tried to escape his financial conundrum when he faked his admission to Harvard Business School and then moved with Julie to Waltham.

Keown's attorneys claimed during the trial that there was no direct evidence that Keown was involved in his wife's death, including the absence of any antifreeze. Leone minced no words when he described Keown.

“Lying, deceitful, fraud,'' Leone said. “That's the best way to describe James Keown.''

Leone said though, that Julie Keown's family and friends should rest assured knowing that James Keown would spend the “next fraudulent chapter in his life'' behind bars.

Contact Richard Conn at 781-398-8004 or