TRAVERSE CITY — Karl Hartman walked out of the 13th Circuit courtroom and disappeared behind a door, where steel cuffs were latched around his wrists and ankles, where chains were wrapped around his waist.
The 55-year-old former Kingsley principal and teacher learned his fate Thursday for assaulting two students with the intent to commit sexual contact in 2004. He will now spend the next three to five years behind bars at a Michigan Department of Corrections facility — a sentence more severe than state guidelines called for.
Judge Kevin Elsenheimer, after hearing statements from two victims and the mothers of two other victims, went outside the suggested 7-to-23-month sentence for the second-degree felony offenses. Elsenheimer said the guidelines didn’t account for the breadth of the situation and the abuse that came from “the unique and powerful position of being principal.”
“These children respected you, some of them almost as a second parent,” Elsenheimer said. “To abuse that position against those that are truly innocent — our children — is an abuse that is not fully recognized by the guidelines.”
Hartman pleaded guilty Oct. 4 to the three felony counts, stemming from accusations he spanked two former students for sexual gratification in his office when he was the principal at Kingsley Elementary School. The plea agreement dropped charges of one felony first-degree criminal sexual conduct, four felony second-degree criminal sexual conduct, one felony accosting a minor for immoral purposes and two misdemeanor counts of furnishing alcohol to minors. Convictions on those charges could have netted Hartman 25 years to life in prison.
Although Hartman was not convicted on those charges, Elsenheimer determined “by a preponderance of evidence” that those incidents occurred. He used that judgment in handing down the stiffer sentence. Hartman’s lack of a statement of remorse or “any recognition ... that he caused harm to the victims, the families, the school and the entire community” also played a part in his decision, Elsenheimer said.
Shawn Worden, Hartman’s attorney, said the sentence was not appropriate because Elsenheimer placed too much consideration on the dismissed charges.
“Karl made a deal, and he didn’t get the benefit of that deal. The prosecutor made the same deal that we made, and they got more than the benefit of their deal,” Worden said.
Worden said Hartman declined to make a statement Thursday because it was a “no-win situation.”
“If he says, ‘I did it, and I’m sorry,’ then the judge gets to assume that everything else bad that he’s been accused of happened. If he says, ‘I didn’t do it. I’m innocent. I took this plea because it’s such a small sentence,’ then the judge gets to say that he lied to him under oath and that he shouldn’t have taken the deal and should have had a trial,” he said.
Hartman, who was arrested Jan. 22, faced 11 separate counts based on statements from eight accusers before some of the charges were dropped in August.
The first victim who spoke Thursday said he trusted Hartman “like a father,” but that Hartman had gotten him drunk on several occasions when he was 14 years old and took advantage of him in an intoxicated state.
“He corrupted my childhood and robbed me of my innocence,” he said as he broke down in tears and struggled to continue speaking. “This has caused me great pain, many issues with depression and mental anguish that has lasted me for years — and still does to this day.”
Two of those who made statements called Hartman “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” and asked for a more severe punishment for “violating the sanctity of the school and using his power to prey on innocent and defenseless children.”
“He took advantage of boys, especially those who could not stand up for themselves,” one victim said. “Karl invested his time and effort in this over the past 30 years for his own sexual pleasure.”
Elsenheimer threatened to clear the courtroom after there was audible disgust from some in the audience when a mother of a victim spoke about a “going-away party” Hartman had after he entered his guilty plea. The mother said she could not understand how people continue to stand behind and support Hartman.
“This pillar of our community has destroyed lives. He’s ripped apart friendships. He’s created fear and distrust. He’s manipulated, he’s groomed, and he’s abused our children for far too long,” she said.
Grand Traverse County Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Attwood said what Hartman did was “the ultimate violation of body, spirit and mind.”
“Rarely is justice perfect, but I think in this situation it was a good result for the victims,” Attwood said. “I feel they were heard.”
Hartman now has 42 days to appeal his sentence, something Attwood said is likely.