The Oneida County circuit court judge who sentenced a 19-year-old former Rhinelander woman to 23 years in prison for killing her mother and stepfather March 7, 2015 in their town of Piehl home has denied a defense motion for a reduced sentence.
Following a 30-minute hearing Wednesday morning, Judge Michael Bloom ruled the defense failed to prove that he erroneously exercised his discretion when he handed Ashlee Martinson the 23-year sentence back in June 2016.
Martinson was sentenced after pleading no contest to two counts of second-degree intentional homicide, reduced from the original first-degree intentional homicide charges filed by district attorney Michael Schiek.
In a motion for post-conviction relief filed July 26, Martinson's appellate attorney Mark A. Schoenfeldt argued Bloom "erroneously exercised his discretion" by placing on the defendant "an obligation to perceive and make rational choices at a time when, as a matter of law, she was incapable of perceiving and making rational choices" because she had "adequate provocation" a mitigating factor that led Schiek to reduce the charges in the first place.
Both attorneys reiterated arguments previously set forth in legal filings before Bloom made his ruling.
The judge spent about 20 minutes explaining his rationale for denying the motion. The explanation, which Schoenfeldt conceded after the hearing was "well reasoned and researched," delved heavily into how the state statutes governing the various homicide charges have evolved since they were overhauled in 1989.
"The statutory legality of adequate provocation, i.e., no intent to kill, does not foreclose a court from considering the factual legality that the defendant found guilty of second-degree intentional homicide on the basis of adequate provocation consciously and purposely took the life of another," Bloom said. "And I say this based on language in a concurring opinion of a justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court that was cited, with approval, in a scholarly article written by members of the committee that drafted the statutory language that I'm interpreting today."
He also explained that while case law is the basis for interpreting how statutes should be applied, legal journal articles written by the authors of the statutes can be cited as showing the intent of the legislature in making the laws.
In his brief in support of the motion, Schoenfeldt cited the 22-page Agreed Statement of Facts filed by Martinson's trial attorneys Thomas Wilmouth and Amy Lynn Ferguson, and accepted by Oneida County District Attorney Michael Schiek, on March 11, 2016 when Martinson entered her no contest pleas to the reduced charges. The document outlines the physical and sexual abuse Martinson suffered at the hands of nearly every adult figure in her life.
Bloom repeatedly cited this statement of facts during the sentencing hearing on June 10, 2016.
Schoenfeldt cited the section of the document that said Martinson was in the process of leaving the Ayers' residence and moving in with a friend in the days leading up to the murders.
According to the statement of facts, Martinson texted her boyfriend Ryan Sisco on March 6, 2015 to report that she had awakened that morning to the sound of Thomas Ayers "beating my mom."
On March 7, after her parents had examined her Facebook account and determined that Martinson was having a sexual relationship with the 22-year-old Sisco, they forbid her from contacting him again and took away her car keys and cellphone, according to the filing. The parents argued over Martinson's future, with her mother saying she should leave the house and her stepfather arguing she should be home-schooled "and that she should essentially be placed on house arrest for the foreseeable future," the filing states.
Martinson then gathered some of her belongings and attempted to walk to a neighbor's house, but Thomas Ayers followed her, made her get into his truck and took her home. On the way back, the statement says, he told her "that it was in her best interests to remain in the Ayers' home."
After they arrived back at the house, Martinson went to her bedroom and armed herself with one of the many shotguns in the residence, intent to take her own life. When Thomas Ayers started banging on the door to the room, she, instead, shot him twice, according to the filing. She then stabbed her mother over 30 times after a brief struggle.
She fled the area with Sisco, with the intention of going to Tennessee, after placing her three younger siblings in a room with food. The pair were apprehended on an interstate highway in Boone County, Indiana, north of Indianapolis, the next day following a nationwide manhunt.
Schoenfeldt's argument for reduced sentence was based on a statement Bloom made in his sentencing explanation that Martinson had a choice to not kill on March 7, 2015.
This statement, Schoenfeldt argued, negated adequate provocation as a mitigating factor that should result in a lesser sentence.
In his initial brief, he laid out the various factors that a judge must take into consideration when handing down a sentence, along with the two reasons a sentence can be appealed: did the trial court properly exercise its discretion in imposing the sentence and, if discretion was abused, is the sentence excessive?
The brief included the full transcript of Bloom's remarks at Martinson's sentencing hearing, totaling about 10 pages of the 19-page brief.
Schoenfeldt focused on a particular section of the remarks where he contends Bloom erroneously exercised his discretion by failing to consider that the "adequate provocation that the court conceded existed at the time of the defendant's actions rendered her, as a matter of law, incapable of making rational choices."
"The record shows that, in the end, the reason for the court's decision was the court's conclusion that the defendant had a choice in this matter," the brief continues.
The lawyer then wrote that Bloom, by reading the agreed statement of facts, was aware of Martinson's "horrendous history of a lifetime of exposure to sexual, physical, mental and emotional abuse at the hands of virtually every adult that she had more than incidental contact with."
Schoenfeldt argued that Bloom erred in finding that Martinson had a "duty to act in the same fashion and with the same knowledge of options as a 17-year-old who had not been abused and isolated for her entire life" and that she "was not a 'normal' 17-year-old" when confronted by an angry Thomas Ayers on March 7, 2015.
He also noted that Martinson's "adequate provocation" was a major factor in Schiek's decision to amend the charges from first-degree to second-degree intentional homicide.
Schoenfeldt concluded his brief by arguing that someone who meets the definition of adequate provocation to the point of losing self-control has also lost the ability to rationally consider her options.
In a reply brief, filed on Sept, 8, Schiek said he could not find a precedent for a sentencing court erroneously exercising its discretion as a matter of law. He also cited a summary of sentencing criteria and noted "sentencing is vested in the trial court's discretion, and a defendant who challenges a sentence has the burden to show that it was unreasonable; it is presumed that the trial court acted reasonably."
He outlined the three factors a judge must consider at sentencing, the gravity of the offense, the character of the defendant and the need to protect the public, and noted that the role of the judge at the sentencing phase is to "assess the defendant's character using all available information, unconstrained by the rules of evidence that govern the guilt-phase of the criminal proceeding," according to a ruling from the State Court of Appeals in State v. Arredondo.
Schiek insisted that Bloom did not abuse his discretion at sentencing.
"The transcript of the sentencing must be read as a whole to understand the context of the sentence," Schiek wrote. "The court did not conclude that the defendant had a choice, as argued by the defense... The Court painstakingly explained, after considering all information, that it refuted the proposition the defendant did not have a choice. The court applied this in the context of her character, which is what the law requires."
He concluded that the defense has the burden of proving the sentence was unreasonable and failed to do so.
After the hearing, Schoenfeldt indicated that he would take the case to the state court of appeals.
See Saturday's River News for a more comprehensive report on the hearing, including Bloom's detailed explanation for denying the motion.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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