Schnitker Sentenced to Life in Prison Plus 15-25 Years for Laramie Murder
A Laramie man convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated burglary and battery will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
John Michael Schnitker, 31, was sentenced Thursday in Albany County District Court to life in prison with the possibility of parole to be followed by 15-25 years in prison.
Judge Jeffrey Donnell also sentenced Schnitker to six months jail time on the misdemeanor battery charge. Schnitker has already served out that sentence, having been incarcerated since his Sept. 27 arrest.
Prosecutor Kurt Britzius read three letters from Gartman's family members during Thursday's sentencing hearing.
"This is a pain that never goes away. There is no closure, no moving on," Britzius read. "I am a broken person."
"John, you took away more than you'll ever know," said one of Gartman's family members in court Thursday. "You could die a thousand times and the debt would not be paid."
Schnitker's mother spoke as well, saying that her son was remorseful for killing Gartman, even if it wasn't apparent.
"What must be done is what it is," she began.
"I am so sorry to Mr. Gartman's family," she said. "Nothing good can come out of this."
Schnitker was allowed to make a statement before he was sentenced. He said the period since he was arrested Sept. 27 has been the longest he has been sober.
"THere's a lot I'd like to say, but I'm still working on learning how to express myself," Schnitker said.
"I'm very sorry to Mr. Gartman's family," Schnitker said as he turned to address the gallery. "I wish I could show and express to you the feelings that I have inside of me."
"I hope that in time I'll be able to continue staying sober and become a productive person," he continued. "To be a father for my children."
"I don't believe any father should be taken from their children," Schnitker concluded.
Both defense attorney Vaughn Neubauer and Prosecutor Rob Sanford requested Schnitker be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, the other option available under statute being life without any chance at parole.
But where Neubauer asked that Schnitker's sentence on the aggravated burglary charge -- the underlying felony of the murder conviction under Wyoming's felony murder law -- Sanford deferred to Donnell.
"The state is in a curious position," said Sanford, who elaborated by saying there are no winners in such a situation.
"There is only loss," Sanford said.
Donnell, before reading it, said he put a lot of thought into the sentence.
"I agree with your mother on one thing, Mr. Schnitker. Nothing good can come from this," Donnell said.
Donnell noted that Schnitker's criminal history began at age 13 with theft and drug issues, and escalated to include more violent crimes, culminating in the tragic events of Sept. 26, 2015.
"In twenty-four hours you assaulted one friend and stabbed another to death," Donnell said. "You represent an extreme threat to public safety and probably will continue to do that as long as you live."
Surveillance footage shown to the jury during the March trial showed Gartman out patrolling his property with a flashlight and an axe shortly before 10 p.m. that night. Later in the video, Schnitker entered Gartman's pickup truck -- prosecutors argued he entered the truck without permission in order to steal methamphetamine, cigarettes or money.
Gartman moved to confront Schnitker at the open driver's side door, but Schnitker quickly shut and locked the door and moved to get out on the passenger side. Gartman ran around the rear of the truck and met Schnitker as he attempted to exit. Schnitker said Gartman swung an axe at him, forcing him to dive back into the cab.
Schnitker took a knife from a sheath on the seat of the truck, got out and stabbed Gartman six times. A man who had been inside Gartman's home watching the surveillance feed ran outside to help, but was too late.
The murder charge was prosecuted under Wyoming's felony murder statute, which requires the state to show the defendant killed the victim during the commission of another felony -- in this case, aggravated burglary for Schnitker's illegal entry into Gartman's pickup.
Defense attorney Vaughn Neubauer argued that Schnitker and Gartman had known each other for years and had an implicit arrangement by which each man could go into the other's vehicle or home to take small amounts of cash or cigarettes.
Prosecutor Rob Sanford countered that Gartman's reaction to finding someone in his pickup on the night of Sept. 26 as documented by the surveillance video proved that Schnitker did not have permission to be in the vehicle.
Schnitker's battery conviction stems from an incident in which he punched a man in the face at the man's Bosler home earlier on the day of Sept. 26.