Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 11, 2013

Killer's sentence vacated


---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A convicted killer who received a minimum prison sentence nearly twice what's called for in state sentencing guidelines had the sentence vacated by the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Robert Jensen Schwander, 19, was originally sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power to a minimum of 40 years in prison for the 2011 slaying of Carly Lewis, 16, in a hut on Beitner Street in Traverse City.

The Court of Appeals, in a ruling issued Thursday, rescinded the sentence and ordered Schwander be resentenced by a different judge. The court said Power didn't adequately explain why he gave Schwander more prison time than what guidelines call for.

Schwander's attorney, Craig Elhart, said the Court of Appeals' decision is "huge." He said Schwander's time in prison could feasibly be shaved by 20 years or more.

But that doesn't necessarily mean he will be handed a reduced sentence, Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney said.

"(The ruling) indicated that the judge simply did not give sufficient reasons for the extent of the departure," Cooney said. "It may be that given adequate reasons, the court might uphold the original sentence."

Investigators said Schwander stabbed Lewis during a heated argument, and testimony suggested she survived for a half-hour to an hour before she died. Schwander was convicted of second-degree murder.

State guidelines call for a minimum sentence of between 13 and 22 years.

A judge may depart from the guidelines, but must explain his or her reason for doing so.

After Schwander was originally sentenced in the case, the court ordered a resentencing by Power in which the judge trimmed the original sentence by two years. Power wrote in one court filing that Schwander's failure to seek help for Lewis was "particularly cruel and soulless" in explaining his reason for sentencing Schwander the way he did.

Power has also said Schwander's betrayal of the Lewis family's trust and charity was a second factor for the departure. Schwander lived with the family while he was homeless and "their reward was defendant’s unprovoked hatred of their daughter which culminated in her murder," he wrote.

The order Thursday did not specify a timeframe for resentencing, or if it must take place in Grand Traverse's circuit. Cooney expected a new judge would need time to review the case and the judge would hear arguments from both the prosecution and defense.

Elhart said the sentencing guidelines are important and "provide continuity across the state" for criminal cases.

Carly Lewis' family could not be reached for comment.