Monday, October 20, 2014

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Duo sentenced in Wiseman homicide case (slideshow)

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Levi Stark was sentenced Monday to a total of 120 years in Montana State Prison for the December 2012 murder of Glendive resident Matthew Wiseman.

Jessica Miller-Grossman, Stark’s erstwhile girlfriend and co-defendant in the case, was also sentenced Monday to 40 years in the Montana Women’s Prison with 15 years suspended for her role in Wiseman’s murder. Miller-Grossman entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors in exchange for her testimony against Stark at trial. She will be eligible for parole in seven years.

Stark was found guilty of deliberate homicide in Wiseman’s stabbing death at trial in May, along with charges of arson and tampering with evidence in the case. 

As part of her plea agreement, Miller-Grossman had pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide by accountability, arson by accountability and tampering with evidence.

District Judge Richard Simonton mostly followed the prosecution’s sentencing recommendations for both defendants. 

In Stark’s case, he gave the maximum 100-year sentence for the deliberate homicide charge and the maximum 20-year sentence for the arson charge, with the sentences to run consecutively. Stark was also given 10 years for the tampering with evidence charge, but that term will run concurrently with the 20-year arson sentence.

However, Simonton denied the prosecution’s request that Stark remain ineligible for parole. With the 120 year sentence, Stark will be eligible for parole in 30 years.

As he did in last year’s sentencing of convicted murderer Walter Larson, Simonton cited the case of Doug Turner as his reasoning for granting Stark parole eligibility. 

Turner was convicted of murdering three people in Glendive in 1987 and was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Turner was later convicted of murdering a fellow inmate and sentenced to death, but committed suicide by hanging in 2003. Simonton was the prosecuting attorney in the Turner case.

“To take away any possibility of parole takes away any hope a person has, there’s no incentive to behave in prison,” Simonton said.

However, Stark’s behavior in prison to date has been less than model.

As he passed sentence, Simonton read off a laundry list of incidents where Stark had made boastful comments about killing Wiseman during his incarceration, as well as instances where he has made threatening comments to or about guards and other inmates.

Simonton told Stark his behavior in prison to date was “indicative of the lack of remorse you have shown throughout these proceedings.”

Sheila Wiseman, Matthew Wiseman’s mother, said much the same thing about Stark during her brief statement to the court.

“I don’t know how someone can be so cold and show no remorse,” she said. “He should be put into prison without parole for the rest of his life.”

Stark made a brief statement before his sentence was passed down, saying he knew he had “made a lot of poor decisions,” but that he “never meant to hurt anybody.” Stark made no apology to nor made eye contact with the Wiseman family members present, asking only for leniency for himself.

“I know Matthew Wiseman meant a lot to his family, but I mean a lot to my family, too,” he said.

Simonton was unmoved by Stark’s comments, though he did suggest Stark was coerced into committing the murder.

“I have to consider the fact that you probably would not have done this without being egged on by Ms. Miller-Grossman,” Simonton said.

That belief led Simonton to hand down a harsher sentence to Miller-Grossman than the prosecution had requested. Prosecutors were asking for a 40-year sentence with 25 years suspended, but Simonton only suspended 15 years of her sentence. Under either circumstance, she would have been eligible for parole after seven years.

Miller-Grossman made a tearful apology to the Wiseman family during her hearing, saying her time in prison had changed her and that she accepted responsibility for her actions.

“If I could take back any of the circumstances leading up to Matthew Wiseman’s death, I would,” Miller-Grossman said. “Looking back, I see what kind of girl I was.”

In passing sentence on her, Simonton said the only reason Miller-Grossman had made a plea agreement and accepted responsibility was because “you were caught and there was no way out.” 

Simonton openly questioned her credibility and sincerity, saying that during her initial court appearances she “appeared with a smirk on your face, probably thinking you were going to beat this.” He also laid the ultimate responsibility for Wiseman’s death at her feet.

“I think you’re manipulative. I think you used Mr. Stark,” Simonton said. “You weren’t there when he killed Mr. Wiseman, but I doubt it would have happened had he not known you.”

Following the hearings, Matthew Wiseman’s family members expressed dissatisfaction with the sentences, collectively calling them “not enough.”

The family was unhappy that Miller-Grossman was allowed to make a plea agreement, a sentiment they expressed during her sentencing and reiterated afterwards.

“(Stark is) going to go to prison for a long time, and in the meantime the woman who manipulated him is going to be able to go out on the streets,” said Sheila Wiseman.

As for Stark’s behavior in court, she expressed disgust.

“He smirked, he’s been cold, and he couldn’t even say sorry for taking my son,” she said.

The Wiseman family also took issue with Stark being granted parole eligibility and Simonton’s reasoning behind it.

“As far as the judge using Doug Turner as a reference, the system failed that kid, and his logical thinking there is wrong,” said Melissa Hansen, Matthew Wiseman’s aunt. “Levi should not have a chance for parole.”

Despite their misgivings about the sentences, Sheila Wiseman said that with her son’s killers now behind bars, it was time to move on.

“In the long run now, it’s time to start healing,” she said.

 

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

 

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