DARLINGTON — The question in Lafayette County Circuit Court Wednesday afternoon was not whether Armin G. Wand III would get life sentences for the three first-degree intentional homicide charges on which he pleaded guilty.
The question was whether Green County Circuit Judge Thomas Vale would set a parole eligibility date — the minimum is 20 years according to state law — or require that Wand remain in prison the rest of his life.
Vale sentenced Wand to life without parole on each of the three intentional homicide charges, to be served consecutively.
Vale also sentenced Wand to the maximum penalties on the other charges to which he pleaded guilty — 60 years for first-degree intentional homicide, 40 years for arson, and 40 years for felony murder. The arson and felony murder sentences will be served concurrently under the plea agreement when Wand pleaded guilty to the charges Feb. 15.
The charges were in connection with the Sept. 7 house fire that killed Wand’s three sons — Allen, 7, Jeffery, 5, and Joseph, 3 — and the Wands’ unborn child, and injured Wand’s wife, Sharon, and daughter, Jessica, 2.
Wand’s brother, Jeremy, 18, is scheduled to be tried on four counts of first-degree intentional homicide, one count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and one count of arson in July. The Armin Wand plea agreement included a requirement that Wand testify against his brother if subpoenaed.
Armin Wand declined an opportunity to speak before sentencing.
Sharon Wand’s statement, read by Jennifer Rhodes of the state Department of Justice Office of Victim Services, combined anger and grief over what Sharon Wand called “the worst thing you could do to a mother — take her children from her.”
Allen Wand was “a great big brother to his younger siblings. He liked to fish, ride his bike, play with his toys, [and] go for walks with me. Allen was a good wrestler and loved school. He was a creative artist and had a great sense of humor.”
Jeffery Wand “was the quiet one of the three boys. Jeffery adored his big brother Allen and was also a great big brother to his younger siblings. … He was a story teller and always wanted to cuddle.”
Joseph, “better known as Jo Jo,” “loved to cuddle with his siblings on the floor under a big blanket. … He had a very protective side when it came to his little sister Jessica, and if he thought you were doing something to her he did not like, he would run in the room and let you know it.”
Jessica “was born premature with many health problems but is currently thriving, growing and doing very well. … Jessica does not realize yet that her brothers are gone forever. She still asks for them and cries when told they are not here to see her.”
Sharon Wand said their unborn child, a daughter she named Dorothy Marie after her paternal grandmother, died at 18 weeks.
“She is now in heaven with her brothers,” her statement said. “Because of you, I will never be able to have children again.”
Sharon Wand sat in a wheelchair in the courtroom while her statement was read. Photos of Sharon Wand and their four children were on an easel in front of the defense table. Part of her statement was drowned out by thunder outside.
“My wish for you, Armin, is that you also never forget your children,” Sharon Wand said in her statement. “When you close your eyes at night, alone in your cell, may the only sound you hear be the crying of your sons, begging for help, dying in pain. May you never forget their cries as you stood by and did nothing. May those cries haunt you every day for the rest of your life. And may you never forget that they are no longer here because you killed them.”
“There are some crimes that are so horrific, extreme and beyond human understanding, and that is what we have here,” said Assistant Attorney General Roy Korte, who said Armin Wand “acted for purely selfish motives” and to “avoid the obligations to his family … without remorse, without compassion.”
Korte described Wand as “controlling,” “physically and emotionally abusive to Sharon for years,” and “in many respects largely indifferent to his children.”
Korte said that while “the defendant has accepted some degree of responsibility by pleading guilty … Mr. Wand has challenges, yes, but … he knew what was going on. And but for fortuitous circumstances, he may have gotten away with it.”
Korte argued against parole eligibility for Wand.
“Remorse? I don’t see it,” he said. “The [pre-sentence investigation] writer didn’t see it. Remorse? No. Regret? Perhaps.”
One of Wand’s two lawyers, Jason Daane, argued for parole eligibility after “necessary punishment. … Any sentence the court gives would certainly be long enough for rehabilitation” and “deterrence and protect the public.”
Daane spoke of Wand’s “severely alcoholic father,” and the verbal and other abuse Armin Wand experienced, “putting him out on the streets, legally blind, at the age of 17.” Daane described Wand as “a limited individual who functions well below you and I.” Added to his “genetic cognitive limitations,” he said, “Mr. Wand never had a chance.”
Daane said examinations of Wand revealed difficulties with “abstract reasoning” and “foresight,” as well as understanding “real consequences.” Daane described Wand’s plan as “a half-baked get-rich-quick idea … distilled from the fiction of television.”
Daane also claimed Wand “panicked” at the fire scene and “engaged in efforts to undo what he had done.”
At sentencing, Vale noted Wand’s previous criminal record, including charges of forgery, worthless checks, and a 2003 conviction for knowingly violating a child abuse restraining order, and added, “I believe he has a reasonable idea of what criminal behavior is.”
Vale noted Wand’s low IQ and abusive background, but said, “Does that excuse this behavior? I do not think that it does. … You are not the only one to have a difficult childhood.”
Wand is at Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun for evaluation of security needs and treatment before he is assigned to another state prison.
Afterward, Armin Wand’s other attorney, Guy Taylor, said, “We as the defense failed to persuade” for a lighter sentence.
Taylor also said he was concerned about Wand’s safety in prison, while calling the staff at the Lafayette County Jail “exemplary and professional.”
Korte called the case “in a class by itself, because those boys were so young and so defenseless … and it was a terrible death.”