GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Minutes before facing their sister’s alleged killer in a Grand Rapids courtroom, Tina DeYoung and Terri Navitskas hugged tightly, encouraging each other to stay strong.
They’d waited 27 years for this moment: The man charged with the 1996 rape and murder of their sister, Sharon Hammack, was standing trial.
A jury was seated Monday morning in the trial of Garry Artman, accused of raping, strangling, stabbing and binding Hammack, a 29-year-old mother of two who was pregnant at the time of her killing.
On Oct. 3, 1996, a delivery driver discovered Hammack’s blanket-wrapped body on the side of 76th Street near Kraft Avenue.
Artman, 65, was arrested in August 2022 after Kent County detectives said crime scene DNA and forensic genealogy identified him as Hammack’s killer.
In her opening statement, Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Elizabeth Bartlett told jurors the evidence will show Artman, who previously served time in a Michigan prison for rape, had a “strong hatred” for women and was “obsessed with redemption.”
“I wanted to get back at all those girls in high school,” Bartlett said, quoting journals allegedly authored by Artman.
“‘The strange thing is,'” Bartlett continued to quote, “‘I never felt guilty about raping them. Fear, yes. Angry, yes. But not guilty.’ Ladies and gentlemen, these are the words of a rapist, of a murderer. These are the words of Garry Artman.”
Artman’s defense attorney, John Pyrski, rebutted, telling jurors, “There’s no date on (those quotes). We’re not sure that it’s him who wrote it.”
Pyrski also said that because Hammack engaged in sex work, no one could know for sure if she consented to have sex with Artman.
“She was a prostitute,” Pyrski told jurors. “(Artman’s DNA) could have been put there consensually. No one is going to be able to point the finger at him and say he forced her to do that.”
But Bartlett said that after an initial sexual encounter, Hammack had vowed to stay away from Artman.
“She feared him,” said Bartlett. “He abducts her. She is stripped nude. There’s a cord wrapped around her neck. Her hands are bound behind her back. Her ankles are also bound so she can’t move. Then she was raped. Then she was strangled.”
DeYoung, Hammack’s sister, was the first witness to take the stand.
“I have to do it for Sharon,” DeYoung told News 8 minutes before testifying. “(I have) to let everybody know that after all this time, we still miss her so much.”
DeYoung testified that Hammack was her best friend.
“She was a loving sister, mother, daughter. She loved life,” DeYoung told jurors from the stand, her voice breaking with emotion.
Senior Assistant Prosecutor Blair Lachman asked DeYoung gently if her sister had run into trouble in her life.
“She had an addiction,” replied DeYoung, “and it led her down the wrong path.”
The jury in Artman’s murder trial consists of 10 men and four women. Judge Scott Noto anticipated the trial would take about a week.
Prosecutors were slated to call 14 witnesses. The defense does not intend to call any.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Office said Artman was identified after a forensic genealogist compared crime scene DNA, preserved nearly 30 years ago, against millions of samples uploaded to national ancestry databases. According to prosecutors, that led genealogists to the four sons of Wilfred and Donna Artman.
Investigators said Garry was the only son who had ties to Grand Rapids. He lived about 5 miles from where Hammack was last seen alive and about 8 miles from where her body was found — bound, strangled and stabbed — along 76th Street near Kraft Avenue.
Artman is expected to be tried in Maryland after the Grand Rapids trial concludes, though his health is failing.
He has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.