By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press Writer
PORTAGE, Wis. (AP) _ A man charged with killing a woman and torturing her young son as he led a gang of violent identity thieves entered into a plea agreement Wednesday that could keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.
Michael Sisk, 26, faces up to 136 years and three months in prison, but will be sentenced to less than the maximum with extended supervision under a state sentencing provision. To a count of second-degree reckless homicide he entered an Alford plea, which means he did not admit guilt but said the prosecution has enough evidence to obtain a conviction. He pleaded guilty or no contest to nine other counts.
Sisk’s attorney, Ronald Benavides, said the plea deal arose after a Wednesday afternoon hearing on a series of motions filed in advance of Sisk’s trial, which was to have started Monday.
Prosecutors say Sisk killed Tammie Garlin, 36, who was found buried outside the house Sisk and others rented in Portage, a sleepy town of about 9,700 in south-central Wisconsin.
A message left after office hours with Columbia County District Attorney Jane Kohlwey was not immediately returned.
Investigators believe Sisk and his gang, including Garlin, crisscrossed the country with their young children, stealing people’s identities and running small-time scams.
Police looking for the 2-year-old daughter of gang member Candace Clarke, kidnapped from her Florida foster parents, tracked the gang to the rental house where Garlin’s body was found in a shallow backyard grave in June 2007.
They found the kidnapped girl, and found Garlin’s son — then 11 — in the closet streaked with blood.
According to a criminal complaint, the boy told detectives that everyone in the gang, including his sister and mother, burned him with hot water and whipped him with an extension cord as punishment. Sisk beat him with a board with a nail in it, he said.
The case spurred an outpouring of sympathy for the boy across the country and forced the Florida Department of Children and Families to reform its system and assign specific workers to track missing children.
Sisk, Clarke, 24, gang member Michaela Clerc, 22, and Garlin’s now-16-year-old daughter were charged with a host of counts, including being a party to child abuse and first-degree intentional homicide. Clarke and Clerc struck plea deals over the past year, and the teen’s case has been moved into juvenile court.
Patti Seger, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, called the case sad.
“You just don’t hear about this combination of folks all traveling together with kids where everybody is sort of participating in abusing each other,” Seger said. “Somebody killed that woman and somebody hurt that little boy.”
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this story.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.
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