MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. – A man who killed and dismembered his wife was sentenced Thursday to serve a minimum of 50 years behind bars by a judge who decried his "demonic, manipulative, barbaric and dishonest actions."
Stephen Grant choked Tara Grant to death then cut up her corpse in a machine shop before providing frequent, sometimes tearful, interviews with reporters denying any involvement in her disappearance.
He also was sentenced to 6 to 10 years for mutilating his wife's body. That sentence will run concurrent to the 50 to 80 years the 38-year-old Washington Township man received on the murder conviction.
Grant, on the advice of his lawyer, did not speak during Thursday's sentencing hearing in Mount Clemens.
"Steve likes to talk. ... It's one thing to talk when you're back at the jail ... but it's an entirely different situation when you know everyone in that courtroom hates you. I think he probably saw the writing on the wall," Prosecutor Eric Smith said.
Grant showed little emotion during the hearing, although he looked troubled as Alicia Standerfer — Tara Grant's sister — described how the couple's two young children are struggling with the loss of their mother at the hands of their father.
"He's so much of a coward, he doesn't even look me in the eye in the courtroom," Standerfer said afterward.
A jury in December found him guilty of second-degree murder. Prosecutors had sought a first-degree murder conviction, but the jury could not unanimously agree that Grant's actions were premeditated.
The maximum sentence for second-degree murder is life in prison. The defense was seeking a minimum term of 15 to 25 years, and prosecutors had asked the judge to impose a minimum sentence of 50 to 80 years.
Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Diane Druzinski called the case "mind-numbing to the court" and said she was satisfied with the upward deviation of the sentencing guidelines due to Grant's "demonic, manipulative, barbaric and dishonest actions."
Smith asked the judge to exceed the minimum guidelines for a number of reasons, including the psychological injury to the children and Tara Grant's family.
"These two children have lost both their parents in a horrific way," Smith said.
He also asked that recent revelations that the children witnessed Tara Grant's murder also should be considered to exceed the guidelines.
Stephen Grant's jail misconduct, including three major violations of rules, also was part of Smith's argument.
"Stephen Grant is evil personified. I don't think the guidelines take into account the depravity of the defendant's actions," Smith said.
Grant's sister wouldn't say whether she was satisfied with the sentence.
"We just want to say that we're sure the judge was very thoughtful in her deliberation and of her assessment for the sentencing," Kelly Utykanski, Grant's sister, told reporters as she left the court. "We have no idea what Stephen is doing with his defense strategy. That's all up to him."
Grant called the Macomb County sheriff's department on Feb. 14, 2007, and said he had not seen his wife since they argued Feb. 9 about her frequent business trips overseas. Media attention snowballed as Grant gave multiple interviews — but communicated only by fax with authorities since retaining a lawyer.
On March 2, Grant borrowed a friend's pickup truck and drove away after allowing deputies inside his house to execute a search warrant. They found Tara Grant's torso in a container in the garage, and a warrant for his arrest was issued the next day.
Authorities picked up Grant's trail by tracking cell phone calls that led them to Wilderness State Park, more than 200 miles north of Grant's home. He was found hiding under a tree and wearing only a shirt, slacks and socks in 14-degree weather.
The jury heard a graphic, three-hour recorded confession Grant gave while being treated for frostbite and hypothermia at a hospital.