A Dane County judge handed down a seven-year prison sentence Tuesday to a Sun Prairie man who admitted he took part in beating to death a man he did not know.
Dane County Circuit Judge Susan Crawford said 25-year-old Jacob A. Johnson, to his credit, had no past criminal record and since his arrest had taken steps to get treatment for drug addiction and other problems. But Johnson committed “a very serious crime” when he and another man beat 24-year-old Dalton D. Ziegler on Oct. 30 at Ziegler’s home in the town of Dane, Crawford said.
Crawford said not only had Johnson beaten Ziegler, but he took money from him and left him alone without summoning medical attention, essentially leaving him to die.
“It is truly an awful crime,” Crawford said before a packed courtroom.
In addition to seven years in prison, Johnson will be on extended supervision for five years after he is released. The 12-year total sentence was nearly three-quarters of the maximum of 18½ years of combined prison and extended supervision.
Johnson, along with co-defendant Drew D. Luber, 22, of DeForest, pleaded guilty in May to felony murder. Felony murder is charged when the commission of a crime other than homicide leads to the death of another person. In this case, the underlying crime was substantial battery.
Luber is scheduled to be sentenced next week. McKayla R. Tracy, 20, of Lodi, who was also charged with felony murder, is scheduled for a trial in January.
The beating happened after Tracy, who was Ziegler’s girlfriend, called Johnson claiming that Ziegler was abusing her. Instead, she was upset over another woman being in Ziegler’s bedroom. Johnson and Luber drove over and went to the bedroom, then Luber held Ziegler down while Johnson struck him. An autopsy found Ziegler died from multiple blunt force trauma injuries, including a facial fracture.
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Johnson’s lawyer, Timothy Verhoff, argued for a sentence of three years in prison and seven years of extended supervision. He said from the start, Johnson admitted what he did and was devastated when he learned from police that Ziegler had died. After he was charged, he waived his right to a preliminary hearing and never entered into plea negotiations, instead pleading guilty without a deal.
Deputy District Attorney Matthew Moeser asked for 10 years in prison, followed by five years of extended supervision. Ziegler’s death has had a devastating effect on his family, he said, which had only recently lost Ziegler’s father.
“Punishment is an appropriate goal,” Moeser said, “to show the rest of society that life matters.”
Members of Ziegler’s family also asked that Johnson receive a long prison sentence and said they doubted the sincerity of any apology they would later hear from Johnson.
“He had the whole world at his feet and the whole world ahead of him, and you took that away in 30 minutes,” Karen Ziegler, mother of Dalton Ziegler, said to Johnson. “I hope that you will think about what you have done the rest of your life because I know that I think about my son, Dalton, my big, lovable teddy bear, every day.”
Johnson said he had been waiting for nine months to apologize to the Zieglers.
“I’m sorry it doesn’t seem like a lot because the words aren’t really enough to show how deeply I feel,” Johnson said. “But I am sorry, and I apologize. I wish I could apologize to Dalton himself, but that’s not possible today.”
He said it is “hard to go on with my daily life knowing how much pain I’ve caused other people.”