GOSHEN _ Relatives of a former Goshen councilman who died following a violent encounter a year ago are struggling to come to grips with the six-year sentence given Thursday to the man convicted for his death.
Two of David Swartley's children, his ex-wife and his sister spoke ahead of the sentencing of Cody Garman in Elkhart County Circuit Court, all expressing disbelief that a jury found Garman guilty of involuntary manslaughter and not of the original murder charge. He was sentenced to the maximum penalty for the Level 5 felony, almost six full decades short of what he could have faced if convicted of murder.
Swartley was killed May 25 during an encounter between the two arranged over Craigslist. The 66-year-old former teacher and businessman was found critically beaten hours after 23-year-old Garman, of Elkhart, left him locked in a car in a wooded area in south Elkhart, and he died hours later in the hospital.
His 29-year-old daughter, Annie Swartley, recalled for the judge how she had to force herself to walk into the hospital room where her dad was on life support. His family had a hard time recognizing him under the swollen face and other injuries, which only hinted at the damage done to his brain.
"Sometimes I get a flash, a thought that won't leave me alone, of my father begging for help, left naked and alone in his car," Annie Swartley said. "Sometimes I can't stop getting drunk. Sometimes I don't think I can live in this world. I want my life back."
She said she didn't agree at all with the jury's decision. The jury reached its finding, one of several available to it including murder, after close to eight hours of deliberation following three days of testimony in late March.
"He didn't just steal the life of my dad," she continued. "He stole my dad from us."
'It doesn't get any easier'
David Swartley's son, Christopher Swartley, kept his eyes trained on Garman as he approached the judge to speak about the impact of David's death and the sentence he thought would be appropriate. He said he wasn't sure how involuntary manslaughter fit the facts, of a nearly 70-year-old man left looking like he had been beaten with a baseball bat, the keys to the vehicle apparently tossed into the trees along with his phone and wallet.
Christopher Swartley recalled his father as a dreamer who accomplished more than anyone else he knew. He said he's grateful for how his father looked at the world and for everything he taught him, from how to be happy to how to play multiple instruments.
"Honestly, he was the best dad I could have asked for... Now I have to wake up every day to the same reality, that my father was murdered," he said. "I feel pain, panic, confusion, depression, sadness, all at the same time, all amplified up. It doesn't get any easier, it just gets farther away."
Barbara Swartley, David Swartley's sister, said he had a loyalty to his family that extended to others as well. She worried that her baby brother was forgiving to a fault, giving people more and more chances at his own peril.
She said it's painfully obvious to her now that there were many things about him she didn't know, and pain that she wishes he had shared with her. She questioned what could make Garman capable of everything he did, but said she's sure he must have had some troubles of his own.
"I'm not sure, but I think hearing he is sorry would mean something to me," she said. "My brother was a child of God. May you come to feel a deep remorse and pain, but may you also know that you are a child of God."
'Not happy or sad about it'
In a brief statement to the court, Garman offered the family what he said was a sincere and heartfelt apology.
"I'm truly sorry for the rift I caused in all of your lives," he said.
He confirmed when asked by the judge whether he had stated, as recorded in a pre-sentence report, that he was "not happy or sad about it," but "kind of sad that someone ended up dying for my actions."
Judge Michael Christofeno observed that Garman's remarks in court were the first time he apologized or showed any remorse at all. He said the extent of Swartley's injuries were closer to torture than mere battery, and that he likely would have survived if Garman had given some kind of aid or called for help.
"This was not simple battery: David Swartley was beaten to death and left to die," the judge said. "You allowed him to go from cries of help to a coma to death."
Christofeno noted that Garman has credit for nearly a year in jail already, for time spent behind bars awaiting trial, but refused to award him any time for good behavior beyond that. He pointed out that Garman attempted to tamper with the jury before the trial began by asking a woman to share with jurors certain Craigslist posts of Swartley's that were turned over to authorities, evidence that had been ruled inadmissible at trial.
The action, which Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker argued was part of a plan to disparage Swartley, threatened to cause a mistrial.
"You attempted to tamper with my jury and you admitted it on the witness stand," Christofeno said. "There is no way on God's green earth I am giving you good time credit for that behavior."