Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 15, 2013

Judge trims Schwander's sentence by 2 years


---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A local judge grudgingly trimmed a convicted killer’s prison sentence by two years to comply with a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling.

A Grand Traverse County jury in October 2011 convicted Robert Jensen Schwander, now 19, of second-degree murder. Schwander killed Carly Lewis, then 16, in a hut on Beitner Street in Traverse City on June 2 of that year.

Circuit Judge Thomas G. Power sentenced him to a minimum of 40 years in prison, nearly double the highest minimum sentence called for under state sentencing guidelines. The Michigan Court of Appeals recently told Power he failed to explain why he exceeded the guidelines, and ordered him to either do so or re-sentence Schwander.

Power in a ruling released this week reduced Schwander’s minimum sentence to 38 years.

“The undersigned is hopeful that this substantial reduction in the defendant’s sentence will prove satisfactory to the Court of Appeals,” he wrote in the ruling.

Power in his ruling rejected the assertion that he needed to better explain his departure from the guidelines. He said he provided two “substantial and compelling” reasons for departing from the guidelines during Schwander’s initial sentencing.

First, authorities said Schwander stabbed Carly during a heated argument, and some testimony suggested she survived for a period of time after the stabbing. Power said Schwander’s failure to help her as she died was despicable.

“This is a particularly cruel and soulless scene evidencing depravity,” he wrote.

Power also pointed to the fact that Schwander, who was kicked out of his home, lived with Carly’s family for a time before the murder.“They provided a home and support for him, a man to whom they owed no duty, at a time when he was in desperate need,” he said. “Their reward was defendant’s unprovoked hatred of their daughter which culminated in her murder.”

Sentencing guidelines use a series of variables to determine a convicted person’s sentence. Those variables include a person’s prior offenses, the circumstances surrounding the crime and several other factors. A judge has the power to depart from the guidelines if he or she determines there is a reason to do so, but has to explain why.

Schwander’s attorney, Craig Elhart, said he doesn’t believe the appeals court will be satisfied with Power’s reduction. The court could put another judge on the case or take other action, he said.

Susie Lewis, Carly’s mother, said she was under tremendous stress when she learned Schwander’s sentence might be reduced.

“I’m relieved,” she said. “Two years is not so bad.”

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney has the option to appeal the reduction. He said Friday his office hadn’t yet made a decision on the matter.