Hollermann sentence is 210 months
Judge departs upward from state guidelines
By Luther Dorr
Steve Hollermann was sentenced Tuesday to 210 months in state prison for the second-degree unintentional murder of his wife, Deborah, on March 22, 2002.
In an Isanti County courtroom in Cambridge charged with emotion, the air as thick as it was outside a few hours later during warnings of severe weather, Judge James Reuter departed upward from state sentencing guidelines that call for a 150-month sentence.
Citing Hollermann's cruelty in murdering his wife, and her vulnerability because she was recovering from an elbow operation, Reuter called it "a terrible, tragic event."
He said it was tragic for families on both sides of the case, especially Deborah Hollermann's sons, Eric and Tom McBroom.
Their pain, noted in their victim impact statements, "speaks to how this incident has touched them," Reuter said before the sentence.
But the reality, Reuter said, was that the incident was caused by Steve Hollermann.
Referring to a staged car accident after Steve Hollermann beat his wife the night she died, Reuter said only Steve Hollermann and his wife, Deborah, now dead, know what happened that night.
Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad had asked Judge Reuter to depart upward in the sentence to 300 months, citing a number of reasons in his 30-minute request.
But Reuter pronounced a sentence of 210 months and told Hollermann he would have to serve at least 140 (nearly 12 years) in a state prison and that the following 70 would be under supervised release, or parole.
Judge Reuter also set a maximum amount of restitution by Hollermann of about $18,000 for the sons and brothers of Deborah Hollermann, saying that figure would be worked out by attorneys.
Kevin Vance, brother of Deborah Hollermann, said outside the courtroom that the family would not have a statement at this time.
"We probably will at a later date," he said.
Prosecutor asks for doubling sentence
Edblad, having read letters written to Reuter in support of Hollermann that described him as a kind, respectful, caring person "who makes you feel special," said that wasn't the case.
He cited Hollermann's admitted affair and the fact that he spent the afternoon before the murder with his girlfriend as an example.
He also cited Hollermann's deceit in a letter to the community that was read at Deborah's funeral and the fact that he spent time with his girlfriend the night before the funeral.
Edblad told Judge Reuter it would be right to depart from state guidelines because of "substantial and compelling circumstances."
The prosecutor also stressed the "great degree of force" mentioned by medical examiners who testified in the April trial of Hollermann that ended April 22 with Reuter finding Hollermann guilty.
Edblad said Hollermann exploited the trust of his wife by murdering her and that, despite extensive knowledge of how to render medical assistance, didn't do so at the scene of the alleged accident.
In fact, said Edblad, Hollerman was holding her head in a way to keep her from breathing when people first came to the scene on Highway 95 east of Princeton the night of the murder.
Edblad said one of the most troubling factors in the case was that from Deborah's death on March 22 until his arrest on April 17, Hollermann "did nothing but deceive family members - and the entire community."
For example, Edblad said, Hollermann used memorial money from the funeral (about $5,000, Deborah's brother Kevin said later in his statement) to post bail.
All those factors, Edblad said, should move the court to impose a 300-month sentence, Edblad said.
Sons, brothers give emotional testimony
Deborah Hollermann's sons, Eric and Tom, and her brothers, Dennis, Mike and Kevin Vance, all made victim-impact statements.
Assistant County Attorney Stoney Hiljus read the statement of Dennis, who is out of the country.
Dennis noted that Hollermann had shown no remorse and that he had skipped his stepson's party on his 21st birthday, the night before Deborah's funeral, so he could be with his girlfriend.
Hollermann should be in prison beyond when he can resume a life, Dennis wrote to Judge Reuter.
Mike Vance told Judge Reuter that Hollermann showed a pattern of cheating and that he committed violence against a defenseless person.
"He cheated Deb of her life," he said.
And, Mike said, "Deb's body was barely cold and the affair continued."
He listed four reasons why the judge should give a stronger sentence - her vulnerability, the fact that she was defenseless, Hollermann's lack of remorse and the void created in the lives of her family and friends.
Eric McBroom, at 24 Deborah's oldest son, said what he felt the most was "anger for what this man did to my mom."
"Four days after my mom's death he made excuses to miss my brother's 21st birthday party so he could meet with his mistress," Eric told the judge, and mentioned all the lies Hollermann had told.
"I've lost a lifetime of love and memories," he said. "There is no sentence long enough. Nothing can bring her back."
Tom McBroom, now 22, said the loss of his mother was the hardest thing he has had to deal with.
"He should serve a lifetime of pain and never be able to regain a normal life because he took the life of a wonderful human being, my mom," he said.
Because of Hollermann's actions, Tom told the judge, he lost some family members, the stepfamily he had grown to love and respect.
"The thing that really disturbs me the most is the way my mom died," Tom said."No one could ever imagine a worse way to die. To have your husband physically beat you over and over again is unthinkable. Anytime a person dies, the only thing people wish for is a quiet, peaceful death."
Tom said he couldn't imagine someone being in jail for only 100 months (two-thirds of the 150-month presumptive sentence called for by guidelines) for what he did.
Kevin Vance, Deborah's youngest brother, talked at length about why he thought the judge should depart upward in his sentence.
"It was a brutal, violent, selfish act," he said.
She missed seeing sons Eric and Tom mature in the last year, Kevin said, saying she would have been proud of them.
"Family get-togethers and holidays will always feel empty without Deb and her laugh and her wit," he said.
"The innocence in my children's lives has been shattered," he said. "One of them asked, ëWhy did Uncle Steve kill Auntie Deb?'
"How do you answer that? I try to answer that for myself."
Kevin said what Hollermann did was a "terrible, cowardly act."
"He not only killed her, but he made her suffer. He let her die as he tried to find a way to save himself. Then he lied and deceived everyone."
Kevin talked about his brothers, and Deborah's sons, consoling Steve Hollermann in the days after Deborah's death.
"We poured our hearts out during this time - [and he was] allowing us to comfort and console him," Kevin said. "What kind of a sick human being can do that?"
Kevin said he was disturbed because Hollermann called his mistress the morning after murdering his wife, before seeing any of her family members.
Hollermann didn't even pay for funeral expenses, Kevin said, didn't pick up Deborah's ashes from the mortuary, and all of Deborah's jewelry and her mother's jewelry have vanished.
"This man is evil," Kevin said. "He needs to be punished for his actions. - He needs to be put away for a long time."
Defense attorney says longer sentence not merited by facts
Defense attorney Craig Cascarano said he found it curious that prosecutor Edblad had found 22 cases in which upward sentencing had been handed out, with none overturned, but had cited only one while speaking earlier.
A common thread of Edblad's arguments is "that they [defense attorneys] don't agree with what you decided," he said to Judge Reuter.
Cascarano, as he asked Reuter not to impose a longer sentence, said, "I can't feel their pain - but that [pain] is not what sentencing is about."
Cascarano, who said he plans an appeal, advised Judge Reuter that he needed to separate his decision from inflammatory statements by attorneys or family members.
"This is a typical felony second-degree murder," he said.
Cascarano said the facts of the case were no different than a normal case of that kind and, therefore, no reason for an upward departure in sentencing.
He also referenced the testimony of the two medical examiners.
"Do we know her death is the result of the assault?" he asked. "This is a typical unintentional murder, maybe even less."
He told the judge the case calls "for a courageous decision" and questioned why Judge Reuter spent seven days trying the case. (It was a bench trial, with no jury.)
After Cascarano ended by saying the judge needed to have the wisdom of Solomon to make a decision, Judge Reuter informed Hollermann he had a chance to speak.
Hollermann, struggling to speak, said he wanted to tell everyone how sorry he was for everything that happened.
"I can't explain what happened," he said. "It wasn't the normal me."
He said he knew he had let people down and betrayed them, and that he was ashamed of himself.
"I loved Deb very much," he said. "I never ever meant to hurt her. I just want everyone to know how sorry I am."
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