GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Jury selection is set to begin Monday morning in the murder trial of Garry Dean Artman, a long-haul trucker charged with killing two women in two separate states a decade apart.
Artman will stand trial first in Kent County for the Oct. 3, 1996 rape and murder of Sharon Hammack, a pregnant mother of two whose strangled and stabbed body was found on the side of 76th Street near Kraft Avenue.
Artman, 65, is also charged in the state of Maryland with the murder of Dusty Shuck, 24, whose body was discovered May 4, 2006, on the shoulder of eastbound I-70 near Mount Airy, Maryland.
Shuck had been beaten and stabbed.
Artman is expected to be tried in Maryland after he is tried in Kent County, though his health is declining. He was diagnosed this summer with terminal lung cancer.
His trial begins Monday in a downtown Grand Rapids courtroom.
The over-the-road trucker called Grand Rapids home for more than two decades beginning in 1992, though it appears he spent many of those years living out of the commercial truck he drove nationwide.
Online records show Artman first landed in Grand Rapids upon his release from a Michigan prison in the summer of 1992. He’d served 11 years for raping three women in two separate attacks in his hometown of Port Huron.
From late 1994 to late 1996, more than a dozen Grand Rapids-area women, including Hammack, were found murdered or vanished. Four women are still missing today.
Most of the victims struggled with addiction, which drew them to Grand Rapids’ Division Avenue South and the commercial sex industry.
“There was a sense of fear,” recalled the Rev. Barry Petrucci of mid-’90s Grand Rapids. “We kept reading in the news, another death, another body found. … But there was also this sense of discounting it, because ‘I’m not a streetwalker.’ I think people at the time really thought it was one (killer), and that ‘this guy is not coming for me, so I don’t have to worry.’”
Petrucci began advocating for the victims and their families while working in urban ministry at Burton Heights United Methodist Church.
“The reason that we got involved was because one senior citizen member of my board called me and said, ‘Barry, you’ve been following this stuff?’” Petrucci said. “And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And she said, ‘You notice this is all marginalization of women, and we’ve got to lift our voices.’ So that’s how it started.”
His church raised reward money from the faith community for information leading to an arrest.
The church also organized a November 1996 vigil. In memory of their loved ones, victims’ families dropped roses into Plaster Creek at Division Avenue South.
“We wanted to make sure that we called out that these were real human beings, children of God, daughters of folks who at some point were deeply connected, who loved them,” Petrucci said. “And whatever happened in that relationship, they were still beloved by their families. And some of them were mothers.”
Nearly 27 years after that vigil, Petrucci recalled a moment that stuck with him.
“We had the service (for the vigil) at Burton Heights Church, and two mothers in particular came up to me, tears in their eyes, and were so incredibly grateful that we did not forget the names of the victims,” Petrucci recalled, emotion catching in his voice all these years later. “We did not forget that these were their kids, and that mattered … and it still does.”
Hammack’s parents are both dead now, but her two sisters will be in court Monday to face the man charged with raping, strangling, stabbing and binding their sister.
“She was a beautiful soul who didn’t deserve to have what was done to her,” Hammack’s sister, Tina DeYoung, told Target 8. “She was a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun with her, just being goofy, being sisters, spending time together. I miss that.”
The Kent County Sheriff’s Office identified Artman as Hammack’s alleged killer after detectives submitted DNA from the 1996 crime scene for analysis by a forensic genetic genealogist.
Identifinders International, LLC, said it compared DNA from Hammack’s body and a rope used to bind her against nearly three million samples uploaded to public DNA databases by people tracing their ancestry.
According to Identifinders, the genealogist narrowed the possible contributor down to one of four sons of Wilfred and Donna Artman.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Office said only Garry Artman had geographical ties to the Hammack and Shuck murders.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Garry Artman would be on oxygen for his trial. This is incorrect. We regret this error which has been corrected.