BY ART BUKOWSKI
TRAVERSE CITY — A local judge needs to explain why he sent a convicted killer to prison for about twice as long as called for under state sentencing guidelines.
A Grand Traverse County jury in October 2011 convicted Robert Jensen Schwander, now 19, of second-degree murder. Schwander killed Carly Lewis, then 16, in a since-demolished hut on Beitner Street in Traverse City on June 2 of that year.
Thirteenth Circuit Judge Thomas G. Power sentenced Schwander to a minimum of 40 years in prison, despite state sentencing guidelines that called for a minimum sentence of between 13 and 22 years. The Michigan Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision released this week said Power failed to adequately explain why he departed from the sentencing guidelines.
"The trial court did not ... justify imposing a minimum sentence nearly double the highest minimum sentence under the guidelines," the ruling reads. "Accordingly, we remand the case to the trial judge to articulate why the factors he cited justify the extent of the departure from the guidelines, or for resentencing."
Power couldn't be reached for comment.
Sentencing guidelines use a series of variables to determine a convicted person's sentence. Those variables include a person's prior offenses, the circumstances surrounding the crime and several other factors. A judge has the power to depart from the guidelines if he or she determines there is a reason to do so, but has to explain why.
Defense attorney Craig Elhart, who handled the trial and appeals process, said he hopes Power reduces Schwander's sentence.
"I would hope that he would have the strength to modify the sentence and keep it within the guidelines, because I don't think it deserved to be outside the guidelines," he said.
A hearing will be scheduled for Power to either justify his departure or resentence Schwander, Elhart said.
Susie Lewis, Carly's mom, said she'd be extremely disappointed if the sentence was changed. She believes Schwander planned to kill her daughter.
"I sure hope it doesn't get lessened," she said.
Schwander doesn't deny killing Carly, Elhart said, and he didn't at trial. But he rejects investigators' assertion that he stabbed her to death, and instead said he accidentally strangled her.
Carly planned to meet Schwander the afternoon of June 2, 2011 at an East Eighth Street market. Traverse City police believe the teens headed to a hut along Beitner Street, Schwander's temporary home, and an altercation ensued.
Authorities extensively searched for Carly for about 10 days before they discovered her body buried in a sand pile near the hut. A forensic pathologist said she died of a deep stab wound, one of several puncture wounds discovered on her body during an autopsy.
Elhart at trial suggested the puncture wounds were caused by police as they probed for her body in the sand pile.
Susie Lewis said her family still struggles with what happened.
"It's been quite a journey," she said. "I thought I'd be farther along after a year and a half, but I'm not."