Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 26, 2011

Schwander takes stand

TRAVERSE CITY — Susie Lewis, surrounded by friends and family, stared at Robert Schwander as he took the stand in Grand Traverse County's 13th Circuit Court.

Schwander is accused of murdering Lewis' daughter, Carly, and he began his testimony late Tuesday. Defense attorney Craig Elhart asked Schwander if he had anything to say to Lewis, and Schwander's voice cracked as he responded.

"I'm sorry, Susie," he said.

Schwander faces an open count of murder in Carly's June 2 death. He told jurors he killed Carly, 16, but said he didn't intend to. Elhart asked Schwander a series of questions about the months leading up to the incident, but Judge Thomas G. Power ended Tuesday's proceedings before Elhart asked any questions about Carly's death.

The trial continues today, and Schwander is expected to proceed with his testimony. The case could go to a jury today after closing arguments from Elhart and Assistant Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg.

Investigators believe Schwander stabbed Carly to death with a pair of scissors inside a Beitner Street storage hut he used as a temporary home, but Elhart contends Schwander accidentally strangled her.

Schwander, who lived with the Lewis family after being kicked out of his own home, led police to her buried body near the edge of a large sand pile more than a week after she disappeared. The pile is a stone's throw from the hut.

Schwander could be convicted of first-degree murder — which requires premeditation — second-degree murder or manslaughter. Elhart will attempt to convince jurors that Schwander accidentally killed Carly during a heated argument, and thus could be convicted of manslaughter.

Elhart said stab wounds on Carly's body were caused by Michigan State Police as they searched for her buried body with a long metal probe. On Tuesday, jurors heard from Thomas Holcomb, the state police forensic scientist who did the probing.

Holcomb told Elhart he definitely made contact with Carly's body — which was a few feet underground — but he doesn't believe he punctured it.

"I know I touched the body with the probe ... I do not believe the probe was pushed into the body," Holcomb said.

Stephen Cohle, the forensic pathologist who performed Carly's autopsy, testified on Thursday that the stab wounds appeared to be from "a knife or something like a knife," and that his examination indicated she was alive at the time of the wounds.

Last week Elhart called forensic pathologist Bader Cassin, who serves as Washtenaw County's medical examiner. Cassin said he couldn't determine for sure whether 10 stab wounds occurred when she was alive, though he disagreed with an autopsy report that Carly died of a deep stab wound to the chest.

Investigators found broken scissors in the hut, and the scissors appeared to have blood on them. State police forensic scientist Nicole Graham, who also testified Tuesday, tested the blood and determined it likely was a match to Carly Lewis.

Elhart in his opening arguments said her blood was on the scissors because Schwander used it to cut off bloody clothes from her body after her death. She had a cut on her head because Schwander punched her during the argument, Elhart said.

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