Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Man gets 20 years for dragging Sheri Jania to her death in 2011

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The Portage man who admitted dragging Sheri Jania to her death beneath the wheels of his car in 2011--in what former Burns Harbor town marshal Jerry Price at the time said was “the most despicable, heartless act I’ve ever seen”--has been sentenced to 20 years in the Indiana Department of Correction.

At his sentencing hearing on Monday James Lohman III said that he has accepted responsibility for “the incident,” as he called it, blamed his actions that day on his alcoholism, and expressed the hope that he be sentenced to time already served in the Porter County Jail and a period of supervised probation in a respite house, where he could help other alcoholics as a mentor.

Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford, however, after reciting the facts of Jania’s death, said that in his 33 years on the bench he has never seen a more “severe” case of leaving the scene of an accident. Bradford added that, in ordering Lohman to serve the maximum sentence, he was following the Indiana Supreme Court’s formula that maximum sentences be reserved for “the worst of the worst.”

Bradford accordingly sentenced Lohman to 20 years for leaving the scene, a Class B felony punishable by a term of six to 20 years; and to eight years for operating while intoxicated-causing death, a Class C felony punishable by a term of two to eight years. Bradford suspended none of either sentence but did order Lohman to serve them concurrently, for an effective term of 20 years.

Lohman will be eligible for release after serving half of that term, or 10 years. But because he has been incarcerated for nearly two years in the Porter County Jail, pending disposition of the case, he will actually be eligible for release in something like eight years.

Testimony

The hearing opened with the testimony of adult probation officer Deb Cincoski, who noted that Lohman does have a minor criminal history and who reported that, over the course of three interviews with her, Lohman “consistently blamed others” for Jania’s death, namely, the persons with whom he and two African-American friends were involved in an altercation near the Shift Change tavern on the afternoon of Sept. 3, 2011. “Had they not been chasing him, all of this would not have occurred,” is how Cincoski summarized Lohman’s view of the events.

On the contrary, Harold Christman testified next, Lohman has “accepted total responsibility,” has “never tried to dodge it,” and feels “extreme remorse.” Christman--who runs the weekly Alcoholics Anonymous program at the Porter County Jail-- has known Lohman for nearly two years and said that Lohman is “actively working the 12 Steps,” has “totally changed,” and wants to help other alcoholics so “maybe some good can come out of this terrible tragedy.”

Lohman himself then took the stand and his attorney Peter Boyles led him through the events of that day. He and his two friends first visited the Shift Change, Lohman testified, where they were asked to leave after the N word was bandied about. They took a pitcher of beer with them and walked to a friend’s house nearby. At some point, Lohman testified, he was cold-cocked by a large man and, on regaining consciousness, found that man jumping on his leg. The three of them managed to escape the altercation, get into Lohman’s vehicle, and then leave the bar, striking Jania and dragging her more than a mile before her body was dislodged.

Lohman testified that he did not see Jania, whom he described as a good friend.

Finally, Lohman read a lengthy statement. But, as he noted himself, “I know my words don’t help.”

Jania’s youngest son, Nathan, also read a statement: “She was more than just my mom. She was my best friend. . . . Now that she’s no longer with us, I feel loss and have no one to talk to. . . . I don’t care for holidays anymore. What family we have left is just falling apart. Everything just seems to be falling apart. . . . I don’t know how to explain the feelings I’m feeling and the loss we’ve experienced. There are no words I can think of to describe what I feel. . . . And I honestly feel any punishment he gets is too good for him. I honestly want him to get what was done to my mother.”

Arguments

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tammy Gregg opened her argument for the maximum sentence by calling Lohman’s appeal to his alcoholism “minimization and deflection.” Lohman “never said ‘I ran her over, I dragged her beneath my car,’” Gregg observed. “He is not taking responsibility. It’s always ‘What happened’ and ‘This incident.’”

Gregg also argued that Lohman is “not a good candidate for probation,” is “chronic” in his use of alcohol, and that, while it is well and good to honor Jania by wanting to help other alcoholics, “I think his waking up every day in (the Department of Correction) is a way for him to remember” as well.

“Obviously,” Boyles said for his pat, “there is nothing we can do that will bring Sheri Jania back.” But Lohman “clearly has accepted responsibility for his action. Is that enough? Nothing would be enough for the family.”

Boyles stated as well that, in discussing the events which preceded Jania’s death,” Lohman “hasn’t offered the altercation as justification or defense for his action, just as an explanation. The main thing is he became intoxicated.”

The Sentence

Bradford found no mitigating circumstances in Lohman’s case. “I hope he is refraining” from alcohol, Bradford said, given that Lohman has been incarcerated at the Porter County Jail since his arrest on the day of Jania’s death. Even so, Lohman’s behavior at PCJ “is not quite as wonderful as he made it out to be.”

Bradford did find two aggravating factors, one of them his criminal history. The other: the seriousness of the crime. “The facts of the case are significantly more severe than Mr. Lohman’s version,” and in all of his time on the bench has “never seen (a case of leaving the scene) with facts as severe as this one,” he said.

Jania, Bradford said, citing the probable cause affidavit, was one of a number of people “trying to get (Lohman) to stop”; she went around to the front of his car and Lohman accelerated and hit her; he then did stop and actually opened his door--while “people were screaming” to him that Jania was stuck in the undercarriage--but then closed the door and fled the scene, with Jania being dragged along.

“There’s not enough to get a murder charge,” Bradford commented, but there is enough--as “the worst of the worst” of its kind--to justify a maximum sentence.

“Mr. Lohman, if you truly mean to keep helping people addicted to alcohol and drugs, there are a lot of those people in the Department of Correction,” Bradford said. “You’ll have a lot of time there.”

 

 

Posted 6/11/2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

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