Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 25, 2013

Resentencing date set in Schwander murder case


— TRAVERSE CITY — A judge shot down a request that he disqualify himself from a resentencing hearing for the man who killed Carly Lewis.

Thirteenth Circuit Judge Thomas Power originally sentenced Robert Jensen Schwander, 20, to a minimum sentence of 40 years — twice what’s called for in state sentencing guidelines — after a Grand Traverse County jury found him guilty of second-degree murder in the 2011 death of Lewis, 16.

But the Michigan Court of Appeals in April ruled Power didn’t adequately explain his reasons for setting a longer sentence, then rescinded the sentence and ordered a different judge to decide Schwander’s fate.

Defense attorney Craig Elhart filed a motion seeking Power’s colleague Judge Philip Rodgers disqualify himself from the case. He said he has “great respect” for both Power and Rodgers, but believes the two-judge court would make it difficult to get a fair sentence.

“Judge, you’re too close,” Elhart told Rodgers during today's court hearing.

Rodgers rejected the motion and said requesting a judge be disqualified because he serves on the same bench as a colleague was a bridge not “yet crossed in Michigan.” He said he speaks with Power about general matters in court cases, but “never” discussed Schwander’s potential sentence.

“I don’t believe there is an appropriate basis for disqualification,” Rodgers said.

Elhart said he wasn’t surprised by the decision and plans to request another judge review the case.

Schwander admitted he killed Carly during an argument in a vacant Beitner Street shack he used as a makeshift home. Prosecutors said he fatally stabbed Carly with scissors, while he argued he accidentally strangled her.

Testimony suggested Carly survived for a half-hour to an hour before she died. Power cited this “particularly cruel and soulless” inaction as a reason for a longer sentence.

Rodgers said he’s prepared to review trial transcripts before the scheduled Nov. 22 resentencing hearing, but acknowledged it might be moved back if another judge is appointed to review the case.