Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 24, 2014

Judge reinstates Schwander's sentence


— TRAVERSE CITY — A judge reinstated the original sentence for a man who killed Traverse City teen Carly Lewis.

Robert Jensen Schwander, 20, will serve a 40- to 70-year sentence for Lewis' slaying, 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers ruled during a resentencing hearing on Friday.

Rodgers' decision comes after a series of Michigan Court of Appeals rulings that eventually vacated his colleague Thomas Power's original sentence -- also 40- to 70-years. The appellate judges found Power didn't adequately explain his reasons for handing down a sentence twice as lengthy as what's called for in state sentencing guidelines; they also required a different judge handle the resentencing.

Lewis' mother Susan exchanged tearful hugs with family members after the hearing.

"Justice was served," she said.

The hearing was steeped in emotion and unfolded in a courtroom filled to capacity. Lewis' and Schwander's families occupied opposite sides of the room. Schwander stood and directly addressed Carly's parents, Todd and Susan Lewis, his family and Rodgers, and apologized for the pain and suffering that what he called his "only mistake in life" caused.

"There's nothing I can say to you that will make this right," Schwander said to Susan Lewis. "There's nothing I can say or do. What happened was truly an accident, from the bottom of my heart. And I wish you believed me."

But Todd Lewis offered no forgiveness for the man he called a "loveless and soulless creature." He said Schwander betrayed his family's trust and deserved community banishment rather than leniency.

"Perhaps in time he will understand what he has done and one day God will forgive him, but it's not in my heart," Lewis said.

Schwander briefly lived in the Lewis family home before Carly's slaying. He admits he killed Carly on June 2, 2011 following a confrontation in a Beitner Road shack that served as his makeshift home, but maintains he accidentally choked her.

A city police investigation determined she died from multiple stab wounds from a pair of scissors and perhaps remained alive for up to an hour. Authorities found Carly's body two weeks later, on the eve of her 17th birthday, buried under a sand pile.

Rodgers listed the "depravity" of Schwander's crime -- whether stabbing Carly or strangling her -- as one of six reasons to justify a departure from the typical 13- to 22-year minimum sentence. He pointed the courtroom's attention to a clock and used the 30 seconds it would take for Carly to become unconscious to vividly describe her struggle for air.

"And as we hit there," he said as clock's second hand marked 30 seconds, "she's unconscious."

Rodgers declined to put the audience through the additional two minutes it would take for Carly to die from strangulation. He said Schwander's version of the facts still gave a long enough time for a reasonable man to give his actions a "second look."

"What you actually did -- stab her to death and sit there a half an hour and watch her bleeding, lung punctured, gurgling, with blood and foam coming out of her mouth -- clearly was adequate time to give a reasonable man the interval to reflect upon his actions," Rodgers said.

Rodgers believed the evidence could justify a sentence of 50 to 75 years, but acknowledged the court of appeals likely would find it "retributive." He said he trusted his reinstatement of the original sentence was now adequately explained.

Schwander's attorney Craig Elhart said he was not surprised at the ruling, but praised Rodgers for his thorough reasoning. He "absolutely" expects Schwander to appeal the sentence, but said he won't represent Schwander in future court hearings.

Grand Traverse County Assistant Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg said Rodgers clearly spent a good deal of time on the case.

"Obviously, we're happy with it," she said.

Most of Schwander's family declined comment. His great-aunt Andrea Otto said the two-and-a-half years of adversarial court hearings offered no opportunities for the families to heal.

"There was just animosity on the family's part and no forgiving of the crime Jensen did," she said, referring to Schwander by his preferred name.

Todd Lewis said Schwander is a "bad seed" and he doesn't care to see or hear from him again. He said he'll be focused on carrying on Carly's legacy through the Carly Jean Lewis Playground charity.

"The real Jensen is right where he belongs," Lewis said. "He looks good in shackles and he should stay that way."