ALPENA - Twenty-sixth Circuit Court Judge Michael Mack sentenced a 19-year-old Alpena man to a maximum of 60 years in prison for beating another man with a claw hammer during a violent, drug-related home invasion in April.
Officials said Michael Bestwick will serve a minimum sentence of 18 1/2 years, with the parole board determining if longer time is warranted.
The case is similar to one in December that left an Alpena woman severely injured during a home invasion, and those suspects also received long sentences.
"This is the second young man in as many months that I had to give a minimum sentence that almost equals their age," Mack said outside the courthouse during a break. "It's terribly disheartening ... and the underlying cause is addiction."
According to courtroom accounts, the April 10 crime unfolded in the early morning hours. The victim, 37-year-old Fred Schmanski of Alpena, was recovering from a car accident and other disabilities, but was still on prescription drugs and medical marijuana for pain.
When he heard a noise outside his home off Misery Bay Road, he rose to investigate, but soon found several intruders trying to break down his front door with a hammer. As his pets scattered and hid, Schmanski fought back until he was pinned on the ground and tied up. Then as two of the intruders went looking for his pain medication, a third man, Bestwick, began hitting him with the hammer. During a period of 10 to 15 minutes, Schmanski said he received more than 24 blows to his skull, jaw and legs. His arm had been pulled out of his shoulder socket and broken. The claw of the hammer also was used in the attack, he said.
Schmanski said Bestwick then removed his mask and looked at him, thinking death was imminent. Then the suspect left.
However, Bestwick and accomplice David Aaron Brown, 19, didn't get far. They were caught a short time later by police trying to track down a report of a car accident. Bestwick was covered in blood, arousing suspicions. Mason T. Miller, then 17, also was apprehended as an accomplice.
After the crime, Bestwick wrote his mother a graphic letter from jail, Prosecutor Ed Black told Mack. The youth told her he'd had a crazy experience that night, and stated that "It felt so good slowly taking a life."
Black also showed Mack photos of Schmanski's injuries and held up a computer scan revealing dents in the Alpena man's skull.
Bestwick made a brief statement, in an effort to express remorse.
"Because what I did I know I was wrong, not because I was caught," he said, glancing at Schmanski behind him. "What I did to him will take a lot longer to heal than physical pain."
All totaled, Bestwick pleaded guilty to counts that included torture; assault with intent to rob; cruel and mental pain; breaking and entering to commit larceny while armed; restraining the victim to facilitate the armed robbery, and assault with the intent to do great bodily harm.
"I have faith in a life sentence," Schmanski said. "Thank God my shoulder isn't some family; my head isn't some child."
Miller refused to plead guilty to several counts in exchange for a lighter sentence and will go to trial Aug. 27-29.
"He's going to lose. I know he is," his mother, Brenda Miller, said.
She and the victim's mother, Erma Nehring, hugged and cried together after court.
Brown will return in front of Mack for possible sentencing Aug. 5.
"I think the victims said it best - everybody's getting a life sentence, because they will never be able to forget this," Black said later.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.