Monday, October 12, 2009

Wisconsin Department of Corrections to pay for facial reconstruction for killer of girlfriend

Daryl Stremke, 45, is serving 30 years in prison and will serve another 30 years under extended supervision for blasting his "girlfriend" Samantha "Sam" Verby away. When he tried to commit suicide with witnesses, including Samantha's 7 year old daughter, he failed to do anything but blast away the bottom half of his face.

According to the victim's father Larry, Stremke had set up a campground for them near Comstock, WI, near Staples Lake the night before the murder. On the night of the murder, June 30, 2002, Stremke had came to see Sam, yelling for her to come out. According to her father, this is what happened next.

"She said if you want to talk to me, you can come in here and talk to me. He walked inside the trailer, down the hallway and 10 feet away... shot her in the head. He then shot himself right there."

Larry ran from the Verby's Staples Lake Bar to the scene of the murder. He said this about his granddaughter's trauma from witnessing her mother's murder. "It took quite a long time for her to go to sleep by herself," Verby said. "She was afraid someone else was going to shoot through her room."

Later this month, Stremke will have the first in a series of surgeries to correct his speaking and eating problems. These surgeries will be funded by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections - and therefore, the Wisconsin taxpayer. Including the victim's parents.

This is what Larry has to say about the surgery.

"He has to live with what he did. There's no fixing it now...But when the perpetrator does it himself to himself with the idea that he went there on a death wish in the first place, he did it to himself. And being that he murdered my daughter, I have no sympathy for him."

Alice Verby, the victim's mother echoed her husband's feelings. "Taxpayers feel their money should go to better things than rebuilding his face. He did it to himself. Let him live that way."

Strenke's mother is defending the decision, saying Strenke, 45, is "tortured" by his injuries. He is serving a 60-year sentence, including 30 years behind bars.

Without surgery, Darlene Strenke said, her son would continue to struggle to speak and eat. She said his speech is nearly impossible to understand, and his food must be pureed.

"He doesn't have any teeth. He doesn't have a roof in his mouth, and he's only got part of a nose," she said. "It doesn't matter who they are, what crimes they've committed, (prisoners) still deserve the (medical) care," she said. "They're still a human being."

The Wisconsin Department Of Corrections provides surgeries to prisoners on a "medically necessary" basis. This is because of their mandate to avoid cruel and unusual punishment as stated in the 8th Amendment.

According to WDOC spokesman John Dipko, "Our actions as a correctional health care provider are consistent with this constitutional directive, including instances in which an individual is identified by an outside medical specialist as in need of reconstructive surgery to protect the individual's life and health."

State Rep. Ann Hraychuck, D-Balsam Lake, who was the sheriff of Polk County in 2002 and helped prosecute Strenke, said she sees both sides. Taxpayers don't want their hard-earned money wasted, but the state must care for people in its custody, she said.

"I do understand that institutions are responsible for providing necessary medical treatment," Hraychuck said, noting that as sheriff, she ran the Polk County Jail. "Now my job is to protect taxpayers ... and make sure they're getting the best bang for their buck."

In the end, Hraychuck said, she trusts Department of Corrections Secretary Rich Raemisch, former Dane County sheriff, made the right decision. Given the budget cuts across state government, Hraychuck said, "I can't imagine that the secretary of the Department of Corrections would OK any kind of treatments or surgery that isn't absolutely necessary."

The cost of this surgery is undetermined due to complications during surgery and the severity of the injury, according to University of Wisconsin Hospital spokeswoman Lisa Brunette.

"Complicated reconstructions for severe injuries in particular very often present unexpected developments all along the way," Brunette said. "I don't think we can responsibly provide even a ballpark estimate at this stage of the process."

But regardless of the cost to repair the hole in Stremke's face, the hole in the Verby family can never be replaced. A 15 year old girl has been permanently mentally disfigured by the actions of a murder on that early summer night seven years ago. No amount of money can remedy that.

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