Man sentenced to 21 years in prison in Janesville home-invasion case
JANESVILLE -- Four masked men with guns invaded a home near Craig High School on a cold night last year.
They tied up a man, wife, son and daughter, pointed guns at them with laser sights and threatened to kill them.
That was Jan. 11, 2016. The family still suffers from the terror, according to the wife and a neighbor who spoke Wednesday to a packed Rock County courtroom.
The robber who did most of the talking was Damien S. Hewlett, she said.
“Janesville was a safe community, and we felt safe. Damien took that away from us,” she said.
Hewlett, 23, was sentenced Wednesday to 21½ years in prison for the crime of party to armed robbery, a charge that doesn't begin to describe what happened that night.
Wife, husband and son were tied up “execution style” on a bed in the basement, the wife said.
Then, they heard a horrific scream from the 8-year-old daughter, whom the intruders had found hiding under a bed upstairs.
“She was yelling, 'I don't want to die,' over and over,” the wife said.
“At one point I was yelled at as I tried to move our bodies closer to each other so we would be touching when we died,” she continued.
“When I immediately started begging for our lives and offering money, he kept repeating, 'It's too late,'” she said of Hewlett.
She later found out that he had told the girl upstairs that if she wouldn't be quiet, he would cut off her head, she said.
The family had to sell the house where they had lived for 16 years because the girl refused to be in the house after dark, she said.
The wife and girl stayed with various friends and relatives for six months until they sold their house, and the father slept on a couch in the house with a newly purchased gun, she said.
The stresses were enormous, financially and emotionally. They still jump when someone comes to the door at night, and they have needed counseling, she said.
“It is horrible enough that anyone can be so inhuman to adults, but anyone who who can treat a child in this way, in my mind, is a demon,” she said. “Damien Hewlett, you took my child's innocence away,” she said.
She called for a maximum sentence, which in this case is 40 years.
The husband was a kind, quiet, helpful person, said Scott Schroeder, a neighbor of the victims and a local attorney.
Now, the husband sleeps with a gun next to his bed and feels he failed in his primary job as a father--to protect his family, Schroeder said.
The wife, a former outgoing, socially involved person, is now frazzled, and every day is a challenge, Schroeder.
Schroeder said the barefoot family came up his driveway with terror in their eyes that night.
“I hope he rots in jail,” Schroeder said of Hewlett.
Schroeder also asked for the maximum possible sentence.
“I know what my son has done is not right,” Hewlett's mother said through tears.
She said she still remembers him as a loving son to whom she read stories and who took care of her when she had the flu.
Prosecutor Rich Sullivan called Hewlett the ringleader and characterized him as the cruelest of the home invaders. He recommended 23 to 25 years in prison, consecutive to the sentence is is already serving in another case, plus 10 years of extended supervision.
Defense attorney Michael Covey said Hewlett's current sentence runs through September 2019.
Sullivan said the father shielded his daughter with his body during the ordeal.
“He was an absolute hero to his family and a hero to this community,” Sullivan said.
Two of the co-defendants said later they were shocked at Hewlett's actions, Sullivan said.
“Mr. Hewlett treated this family as animals. They were herded, they were put into a room and then they had their belongings just destroyed. The home was trashed,” as the men searched for valuables, Sullivan said.
“What he did was barbaric. It was monstrous,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan noted Hewlett's long criminal record, including six felony convictions from 2012 to 2015 and a juvenile record since age 13.
Tuesday night, when he was brought from prison to the Rock County Jail, he attacked jailers, had to be put into a restraint chair and later a spit hood, Sullivan said.
Judge James Daley said he would not take that behavior into account, saying if Hewlett is charged for that incident, he would be sentenced for it separately.
“The community needs to feel safe from Mr. Hewlett, for sure,” Sullivan said. “The community needs to know that Mr. Hewlett is not the bogey man out there with a gun with a laser sight, trying to scare everybody, coming into their home and trying to take their stuff,” Sullivan said.
The court must send a message “that this type of thug, this type of gun, this type of drug behavior is not going to be tolerated,” Sullivan said.
Hewlett maintains he did not even enter the house, that he was the driver of the group and waited outside in the car.
Sullivan portrayed that as a failure to take responsibility. But defense attorney Michael Covey noted the only evidence that Hewlett played such a prominent role is the word of his co-defendants. There was no physical evidence that Hewlett was in the house, Covey said.
Covey called co-defendants' statements self-serving, and he pointed to a statement by a family member that the most aggressive home invader had the darkest skin.
“All I can say, and I'm pointing to his skin right now, is Damien was not the darkest-skinned person in that room, not even close,” Covey said.
Covey recommended 10 years in prison and seven years of supervision, to be served at the same time as his current sentence.
Covey noted none of the victims suffered physical injury, and he said Hewlett's difficult youth should be considered.
He had extreme ADHD and obsessive-compulsive disorder at a young age, and as a young man he could not always afford the medications he needed, Covey said.
He had an IQ of 89 and a father who was rarely around and who beat him when he was, Covey said, and he was surrounded by drug and alcohol abuse as a boy.
“He's 23 years old going on 17,” Covey said.
“This act was an unsophisticated act planned by boys, conceived by some high school senior,” Covey said.
Judge Daley rejected the argument that Hewlett wasn't in the house.
“All of them collectively terrorized this family. All of them collectively bear the responsibility for what happened to this family. ... It doesn't matter to me whether you were in the car or in the house, frankly,” Daley said.
The others charged in the crime will have their day in court, as well, Daley said.
“I've got to send a message to this community that this, we can't accept,” Daley said.
Daley ordered 13½ years of supervision after Hewlett gets out of prison. He found him eligible for the prison substance-abuse program, but not until he has served 16 years. The program offers the possibility of shortening the prison term.
Daley ordered that Hewlett not have any contact with the victims throughout the 35 years of his sentence.
“I want this family to know that for a period of time they won't have to worry about where you are,” Daley said. “... I want them to go to sleep nights knowing that you and the other people involved in this will not bother them. I can give them peace of mind, at least, hopefully.”