Traverse City Record-Eagle


October 19, 2011

Defense: Schwander strangled but didn't stab Carly Lewis


Multiple stab wounds in Carly Lewis' body were caused by police as they probed for her body in a large sand pile, a defense attorney contends.

The murder trial of Robert Jensen Schwander, 18, began today in 13th Circuit Court in Traverse City. Schwander is charged with an open count of murder in Carly's June 2 death.

Assistant Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg in her opening statements said Schwander repeatedly stabbed Carly, 16, with a scissor blade inside a Beitner Road storage hut that served as Schwander's temporary home.

But defense attorney Craig Elhart said Schwander instead strangled her to death during a heated argument, and wasn't responsible for a series of stab wounds later described by a forensic pathologist.

"These stab wounds were not done by Jensen Schwander," he said, referencing Schwander by the name he most often uses. "They were done by the Michigan State Police."

Workers from the state police crime lab were called to search a sand pile used by Traverse City's street crews after interviewing Schwander, who police said disclosed the location of her body. The sand pile is a stone's throw from the hut where police believe the murder occurred.

A forensic pathologist said Carly died of a deep stab wound to her chest, one of 10 puncture wounds discovered on her body during an autopsy. State police crews used a long metal probe to search the pile, Elhart said, and that probe caused the wounds.

Elhart will attempt to prove Schwander didn't intend to kill Carly, and thus could be convicted of manslaughter. A jury could convict him of first-degree murder — which requires premeditation — second-degree murder, or manslaughter.

Moeggenberg argued that Schwander, who lived with Carly's family after being kicked out of his own home, planned to kill Carly because he blamed her for his forced departure from the Lewis home.

Carly's body was found wrapped in trash bags, and Elhart told a jury he'll attempt to prove that holes in the trash bag correspond to stab wounds on her body.

"Is it logical for any one of us to sit here and believe that she was put in a bag and then stabbed?" Elhart said. "That is completely illogical. And each one of these wounds corresponds in large part to a defect in the bag that was caused by the Michigan State probe."

After opening arguments, the jury heard testimony from Susie Lewis and Mitchell Lewis, Carly's mother and brother. Both testified about a tense relationship between Lewis and Schwander, who was invited to live in the home by Mitchell Lewis.

"Some days they seemed buddy-buddy, other days they seemed like mortal enemies," Mitchell Lewis said.

Susie Lewis said Carly and Schwander appeared to bond at times — possibly over drug use — but never appeared overly close.

"They just really didn't get along," she said. "He told me and others that he didn't really like her."

Carly planned to meet Schwander the afternoon of June 2 at the Glen's market on Eighth Street. Police believe the teens headed to a storage hut, where they got in an argument.

Police said Schwander told them that Carly assaulted him at the hut, so he punched her in the face, and she fell and hit her head on concrete flooring. Elhart today said she continued to struggle and Schwander ultimately strangled her.

The trial will continue Thursday and is expected to last through the end of next week.

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