Killer son: ‘I’m not a violent person’
Teen will spend at least 25 years in prison for stabbing mother to death
By Stephen Frye – The Oakland Press
May 2, 2006
His lawyer still believes that a jury would have struggled to convict him and the judge can’t understand why the murder happened, but the Rochester Hills teenager who stabbed his mother to death was sentenced Monday to at least 25 years in prison.
Christopher Dankovich, 16, apologized for what he did and said that he was not a violent person.
Now the boy will not be eligible for parole until he is 40 years old.
The youth was a 15-year-old Rochester Adams High School student when he stabbed his mother, 50-year-old Diane Michele, 111 times with a small knife on the night of April 24, 2005, inside their home near Tienken and Adams roads.
Her body was found the next morning, after Dankovich had fled to his father’s northern Michigan cottage, where he was arrested with survival gear.
After several attempts to negotiate a sentencing agreement, a deal was finally reached on Monday, when Oakland County Circuit Judge John J. McDonald said that he was as satisfied as he could be with the potential outcome.
“I’ve reviewed everything I can review,” McDonald said.
Defence attorney Mitchell Ribitwer said the decision to continue with his guilty plea to open murder – in which the judge found him guilty of second degree – not premeditated – came from Dankovich.
“He had a very good defence for not guilty by reason of insanity,” Ribitwer said. “Christopher made the final decision. He wanted to accept responsibility for his actions.
“Personally, I feel we should have gone to trial for a criminal responsibility issue. It’s not my call.”
Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor Lisa Ortlieb Gorcyca has long said that they had a strong case against Dankovich, who faced a mandatory life sentence without parole if convicted of first-degree murder.
McDonald, who had nixed an earlier deal for a 22 1 /2-year minimum term because of concerns about public safety once Dankovich is released, sentenced the meek-looking youth to 25-to-37 1 /2 years in prison.
“I’d just like to say how sorry I am for what I did,” Dankovich told the judge.
When McDonald questioned him as to how he felt, Dankovich responded, “I just feel sad. … I feel nervous.”
Earlier testimony from a psychologist – requested by the judge, who feared that Dankovich would present a danger to society after his release – indicated that the boy believed he was on a mission from God to protect children. When his mother tried to discipline him for his homemade weapons, intended for abortionists and child pornographers, he lashed out at her.
When asked about what drove him to that belief system, Dankovich said: “I’d prefer to not have to talk about it. … Everything went wrong.”
Dankovich said he felt horrible about what happened.
The judge noted a letter he received, which Ribitwer said alleged emotional abuse by Michele as a factor in shaping Dankovich’s mind, but the judge did not say who sent it.
The judge also addressed the boy’s father during the sentencing, and he later spoke to him privately at the bench.
“It’s a very tragic case, and my heart goes out to you and your other family members,” McDonald told James Dankovich, a successful chiropractor who lives in Troy and was divorced from Michele. But, the judge added, he had a job to do. McDonald spoke at length about his frustration with understanding what drove a boy who seemed a model student and citizen to commit one of Oakland County’s most vicious crimes, killing one’s mother with 111 stab wounds, including stabbing out her eyes. “You were a fairly model student, no behaviour problems at all,” the judge said. “That’s what concerns me. I just can’t see any good reason for this.” The judge asked that if he did this once, why won’t he do it again? “I’m not a violent person,” Dankovich responded. “That’s what makes this case so bizarre,” McDonald answered back.
Not God’s mission
Ribitwer said he explained fully to Dankovich what to expect in prison and admitted it will be difficult to determine what kind of man emerges from the prison system.
The teenager’s thoughts and beliefs, though, are being modified from his belief that he was on a mission from God, Ribitwer said. He has recognized “the inappropriateness of his behaviour,” Ribitwer said.
While Michele was in the process of finding out about Dankovich making weapons, including homemade bombs, Ribitwer said he does not believe she knew fully what was motivating him.
“They didn’t see it coming,” Ribitwer said of the family.
From becoming enamoured with the Bible, Dankovich turned to the Internet and several anti-abortion groups, his lawyer said. From the philosophical ideas, Dankovich then turned to militia-type groups.
“Chris, in his mind, was basically on a mission from God,” Ribitwer said. “He believed in a higher authority. His mother was not going to stand in his way. He was attempting to stop the abortionists. He was attempting to stop the pornographers. He wanted to save children.”
That, Ribitwer continued, showed a substantial disorder of thought, a key component of insanity in the criminal justice system.
“He didn’t have the ability to conform or modify his conduct,” Ribitwer said.
The judge questioned the boy thoroughly several times about whether he understood his rights and what his sentence meant.
“This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get out then,” McDonald said of his 2030 parole eligibility. “A lot will depend on your behavior while incarcerated” and help received from mental health experts.
The judge discussed at length what kind of treatment Dankovich will receive, but he noted that he can only strongly suggest it and not order it. Initially, Dankovich will be housed with other minors, but then he would move to the adult population after he turns 21.
“You’re a young man, and I feel really sorry for you,” McDonald said. “I hope you get the help you need.”