RACINE — Sitting on the bench and looking down at the Milwaukee man convicted of fatally stabbing his stepfather, a judge said he’s “struggled over this case as much as any case I’ve had.
“I understand there are mental health issues here, but they don’t excuse what he did,” Racine County Circuit Judge Charles Constantine said before sentencing Trevor L. Rogers to six years in prison plus 18 years on extended supervision for killing his stepfather.
It was on Dec. 5, 2011, that Rogers, 41, struck his stepfather with a brass coffee table in the Racine home they were sharing.
Rogers has said Thomas Person, 76, came at him with a knife, he then struck his stepfather with the table and stabbed him in the heart and slit his throat.
Rogers, who has bipolar disorder, told police the altercation occurred while the two were arguing about a pile of clothing on the floor. He has testified that he thought people were waiting outside the house to get him, and that Person still would come after him despite being hit with the table and stabbed in the chest.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Repischak called for a prison term of 15 to 18 years for “the barbarous way the victim died.”
Adrienne Moore, who heads the state Public Defender’s trial office in Racine, argued that Rogers is well-educated, a law-abiding person when medicated and hasn’t violated bond for 2½ years while on house arrest.
She called for “a lengthy term of probation,” but no prison time. Or, sentence Rogers to three years in prison plus seven years on extended supervision, she suggested.
“If Trevor is medicated you will never see him (in court) again,” Moore said.
Rogers said if he could go back to that day, he would “change the fact that he’s gone.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss. I was very scared and going through a manic episode,” Rogers told Person’s family. “He was the only father that I had. I’m very deeply scarred.”
Person’s son, Tyrone Buckley, 40, of Racine, cried openly during Rogers’ sentencing, saying “what he did was hatred.”
Overcome with emotion, Rogers’ sister, Traci Hines, said “this tragedy weighs on both of our hearts heavily.” Struggling through tears, she then turned around to look at Buckley saying: “My heart breaks for you.”
Hines said her brother was a different person when he was taking his medication. But when he went off his medication, he turned into “somebody I didn’t even want to be in the same room with. I feared him.”
Witnesses have testified at prior court hearings that Person was physically abusive to Rogers’ and Hines’ mother, and had threatened to shoot Rogers in the past. Person’s blood-alcohol concentration was 0.14 when he died, Constantine said.
Buckley made a derisive snorting noise as Constantine handed down Rogers’ sentence. After the hearing, Buckley said Rogers should spend more time behind bars.
“I don’t agree with it. I know Constantine. He (is) lenient,” said Buckley, a team leader at Case-New Holland. “Who’s to say what happen(s) when he gets off his medication again? The public is in danger.”
Rogers pleaded no contest on Feb. 25 to an amended charge of second-degree intentional homicide using a dangerous weapon. That was the first phase of a special type of trial. The second phase included psychologists’ testimony about Rogers’ mental health to determine if he was not guilty of killing his stepfather by reason of a mental disease or defect, known as NGI.
Psychologists testified in spring that Rogers stopped taking his medication before his stepfather’s slaying. But the four psychologists disagreed about Rogers’ mental state at the time of the killing.
Constantine ruled in July that Rogers’ mental illness didn’t prevent him from understanding that killing Person was wrong. That decision meant Rogers would face prison time — instead of possibly a state mental institution.
Vow to appeal
After the sentencing, one of Rogers’ defense attorneys said he will appeal.
“We do believe that his mental illness was a deciding factor in what happened that night,” Moore said. “I really wish that (Constantine) would have found him to be NGI. Then instead of going to a prison, he would go to a hospital (for treatment) if the court felt that was appropriate.”
Constantine said during the sentencing that not only did he struggle in crafting Rogers’ sentence, but so did the Wisconsin Department of Corrections’ agent who issued a punishment recommendation.
“I think it’s significant that DOC struggled so much with this decision. Trevor Rogers is a good man. He just struggled with his illness.”