PORTAGE, Wis. – A drifter convicted of helping his gang of scam artists kill a woman and torture her young son was sentenced to 58 years in prison Tuesday.
Michael Sisk, 27, of Portage, faced more than 136 years in prison on 10 charges, including second-degree reckless homicide, child abuse, false imprisonment and aggravated battery.
Sisk was convicted in August of helping his gang kill 36-year-old Tammie Garlin and torture her 11-year-old son. Police found the boy locked in a closet and Garlin's body in a shallow grave behind the gang's house in Portage.
"I am sorry that everything happened," Sisk told Columbia County Circuit Judge Alan J. White before his sentencing Tuesday. "I would like to apologize to (the boy). I am sorry I wasn't a man to stop everything from happening to him. I wish I could trade places with him."
Investigators believe Sisk and his girlfriend, Candace Clarke, led a roving gang of identity thieves. The group included Sisk, Clarke and Clarke's 2-year-old daughter, as well as Garlin, her 11-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter, and Michaela Clerc, Garlin's former lover.
They rented a house in Portage, a city of 9,700 people about 40 miles north of Madison, in February 2007 because they wanted to see snow, according to court documents. The group had begun living together in Florida in 2006.
Prosecutors contended the group turned on Garlin at some point, torturing and eventually killing her. Clarke told reporters in jailhouse interviews in 2007 that this happened after Garlin admitted to having sexual fantasies about her. Sisk became angry and felt betrayed, Clarke said.
Police searching for Clarke's daughter, whom she had kidnapped from a Florida foster home, tracked the gang to the Portage house in June 2007. They found the boy, blood-streaked and starving, locked in a closet and his mother's body in a shallow grave in the backyard.
The child had burns on 40 percent of his body and lost fingertips and toes, pediatrician Barbara Knox testified.
A court-appointed representative for the now-13-year-old boy read a letter from him, describing how he was burned with a glue gun and hot water and hit with extension cords, a golf club and a paddle. The boy said Sisk hit his mother with a chair.
"I thought I would die when Michael was burning and hitting me," the boy said in his letter.
He added, "I would like Michael to go to prison for the rest of his life for hurting me and my mom."
Discovery of the boy spurred an outpouring of sympathy nationwide and forced the Florida Department of Children and Families to reform its system and assign specific workers to track missing children.
His sister also wrote a letter to the court, saying Sisk threatened her if she did not help bury her mother.
"I will never be the same because of you," the teenager wrote. "Michael, I am not a monster, you are."
While Sisk apologized in court, his attorney also read a statement in which he claimed he made poor choices because he had fallen in love with Clarke.
"I have always been a caring and loving person," he said in statement read by defense attorney Ronald Benavides. "I love her so much. I could not leave her."
White called Clarke a "shameless liar" and said Sisk could have ended the abuse.
"There is an old saying, 'Love is blind,"' White said. "In this case, love of Miss Clarke was very misplaced by you."
Clarke, 24, and Clerc, 22, pleaded no contest to child abuse and other charges earlier this year. Clarke was sentenced to 55 years in prison, and Clerc got 37 years.
Garlin's daughter's case was moved to juvenile court, where proceedings are secret.
White sentenced Sisk about two weeks after ruling he couldn't back out of a plea deal that had him entering an Alford plea — in which a defendant pleads guilty but doesn't admit guilt — to a reduced charge of second-degree reckless homicide. Sisk pleaded guilty or no contest to the other charges.
Sisk told White on Dec. 17 that he thought his deal with prosecutors would avoid a mandatory life sentence for first-degree intentional homicide. But when he added the sentences up, he realized he still faced what amounted to life in prison. White rejected that claim as "incredible."
Prosecutors had asked Tuesday for an 82-year prison sentence. White ordered Sisk to serve 47 years of extended supervision after his 58-year prison term ends. He said a long prison term was needed to protect the public.
"You have done things that are horrendous," White told Sisk. "You did prey on the weak. How people could have lived in this type of horror story for two months is beyond belief."
District Attorney Jane Kohlwey called the sentence fair.
"It is probably a life sentence," Kohlwey said. "We don't know how long he will live. He will be in prison until he is an old man at least."