TRAVERSE CITY — A judge is set to reconsider a prison sentence for the man who killed Traverse City teen Carly Lewis.
On Friday, Robert Jensen Schwander, 20, is scheduled to appear for a resentencing hearing before 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers. Schwander will step foot in the same courtroom where in 2011 a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder.
Rodgers’ colleague Thomas Power originally sentenced Schwander to a minimum of 40 years in prison, twice what’s called for in state sentencing guidelines. But a series of Michigan Court of Appeals decisions eventually vacated the sentence, and appellate judges ruled Power failed to justify the “extent” of the sentence’s departure from state guidelines.
“My client has always admitted the death of the young lady was his responsibility,” said Schwander’s attorney Craig Elhart. “What we want is a sentence proportionate to other sentences.”
The court of appeals also ordered another judge to handle the case. In October, Rodgers shot down Elhart’s request that he disqualify himself because of his working relationship with Power; 46th Circuit Court Judge George Mertz later upheld the decision and cleared the way for Friday’s hearing.
Rodgers said the court of appeals didn’t dispute how Power scored the sentencing guidelines and found his reasons for imposing a longer sentence “substantial, compelling and objective.” He said the “magnitude” of the departure from the typical 13- to 22-year minimum sentence is at issue.
“How did the judge arrive at 40 years as opposed to 35 or 50?” Rodgers said. “That’s the only thing that remains at-issue, and it’s an important issue. It’s about proportionality, it’s about treating people the same based on who they are, what they did and to look at that within the sentencing guidelines we have in Michigan.”
Schwander admitted he killed Carly during an argument in a vacant hut on Beitner Street in Traverse City that he used as a makeshift home. Prosecutors said she died from multiple stab wounds, perhaps surviving for up to an hour, but he argued he accidentally strangled her.
Grand Traverse County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg handled Schwander’s trial. She awaits word from Rodgers whether she’ll be asked to speak about the sentence.
“We were obviously happy with the original sentence,” she said.
Rodgers said he’ll ask to hear from “all interested parties,” including family members. He said he spent a day reading the trial transcripts and additional time reviewing the past sentencing transcripts and court decisions.
“So when I go into the sentencing, I will feel as prepared as one can be who didn’t preside over the trial himself,” he said.
Elhart said there was no question Schwander committed a “horrific act.” He said the question is how culpable Schwander should be for a mistake he made as a 17-year-old.
“This is going to be another hard day for the community,” Elhart said. “It’s going to open up wounds that to a certain extent been healed.”