GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Sharon Hammack’s sisters just wanted to know why.
“You took something from us that was precious,” declared Tina DeYoung as she stared down the man who raped and murdered her sister nearly three decades ago. “What gave you the right?”
Sharon Hammack, 29, was pregnant and the mother of two young children when Garry Artman raped, stabbed, strangled and hogtied her.
A jury took just thirty minutes Sept. 28 to convict the long-haul trucker, who lived five miles from where Hammack was last seen near Division Avenue and Burton Street.
“We never got to meet a nephew,” said DeYoung at Artman’s Thursday morning sentencing in a downtown Grand Rapids courtroom. “She never got to meet my son,” DeYoung continued. “You took that.”
Hammack’s blanket-wrapped body was discovered just off 76th Street near Kraft Avenue by a passing delivery driver on Oct. 3, 1996.
“You’re not even a person,” proclaimed Terri Navitskas, another Hammack sister, her voice rising. “You’re not a man. You’re nothing but a piece of garbage.”
The two sisters did not get the answers they sought at Artman’s sentencing; the trucker, now 65, continued to deny killing Hammack.
But DeYoung and Navitskas did receive two precious gifts Thursday: justice and jewelry.
DeYoung had asked Kent County prosecutors to release from evidence the pearl necklace and earrings Hammack still had on when she was found murdered.
Minutes after sentencing, in a courthouse conference room, assistant Kent County prosecutor Elizabeth Bartlett carefully placed the jewelry on a table in front of DeYoung and Navitskas.
“Sharon would want you guys to have these,” said Bartlett.
DeYoung, unaware the jewelry had been released, picked up the pearls and held them close to her face.
“I love you sissy,” said DeYoung under her breath, tears streaming down her face.
“It’s a piece of her, right?” said Bartlett. “I’m sorry we couldn’t get the answers on why,” Bartlett continued, referring to Artman’s denial.
“It’s because he’s a coward,” said DeYoung. “A monster.”
Artman was sentenced to life in prison without parole for Hammack’s strangulation murder, but it could be a relatively short prison stay.
He was diagnosed this summer with terminal lung cancer.
At sentencing, Blair Lachman, senior assistant prosecutor in Kent County, encouraged Artman to come clean while he still can.
Lachman referenced a string of mid-90’s murders that targeted women working Grand Rapids’ red light district.
Most of the victims, including Sharon Hammack, struggled with crack addiction and had turned to sex work to fund it.
“I’m hopeful Mr. Artman will listen,” said Lachman in court. “There’ve been similar homicides, at least 11 more homicides that are similar to this. Mr. Artman has clearly lived a very selfish life … What we’re asking is for the first time, that he give to somebody else … give to others by letting the families know what happened to their loved ones.”
Instead, Artman offered a bizzare narrative about his interactions with women in the commercial sex industry.
“I’ve talked to enough hookers, quite a few, and they all say the same thing, ‘Daddy dearest wasn’t so dear.’ Especially when drugs were involved. Artman told the court. “I don’t know what happened to (Sharon Hammack) and that’s the truth.”
The over-the-road trucker did acknowledge he raped two women in 1980, for which he pleaded guilty and served 11 years. But that’s all he admitted.
“They’re blaming me for what somebody else did,” Artman said. “Let ’em. If they get closure, fine, they get closure. But all these other murders, they’re idiots,” he continued, referring to investigators on the case. “You detectives right there, ‘scuse my language, are (expletive) idiots. Why? Because you keep looking at me, and I didn’t do it.”
To that, someone at the prosecutor’s table said quietly, “Yes, you did.”
Testimony at Artman’s September trial revealed that his DNA was found inside Hammack, under her fingernails and on the electric blanket wrapped around her body.
“You’re a monster,” Tina DeYoung told Artman. “I hope you rot in hell.”
It was the crime scene DNA, as well as advances in forensic genetic genealogy that finally identified Artman as Hammack’s killer 27 years after she was found murdered.
Early in Thursday’s sentencing, Kent County Circuit Court Judge Scott Noto announced he would not limit how long the victims’ sisters spoke, what they said, nor to whom they addressed their comments.
Previously, the day before a sentencing in a different case, a clerk in Noto’s office sent an email to the prosecutor’s Victim Witness unit, reminding them that Noto does not allow victims to address defendants directly.
But in Artman’s case, Noto made clear he would not enforce that rule.
“I have permitted people to speak because I understand the feelings,” Noto said from the bench. “In prior cases, I’ve allowed people to speak to the defendant. I don’t want to abridge that right that you have to make your statement.”
Noto acknowledged Hammack’s family had waited a long time for this moment.
After he’s booked into a Michigan prison, Artman will be transported to Maryland to stand trial for the murder of Dusty Shuck, 24. Her body was found on the shoulder of I-70 near Mt Airy, Maryland, in 2006.
DNA from Shuck and Hammack’s murder scenes showed the same man killed both women, ten years and 500 miles apart.