Janesville man found guilty of attempted murder in ax attack
JANESVILLE—Jeffrey J. Starkman admitted he bludgeoned the skulls of two people with a roofing ax last April.
The Janesville man admitted he fled police on Interstate 90/39 at speeds exceeding 100 mph.
But Starkman hoped a jury would believe him when he said he did not intend to kill the mother of his children and the mother's friend at her Janesville apartment last April.
A Rock County jury of seven women and five men did not believe him. The jury on Thursday found Starkman guilty of the attempted murders of Katrina Patrick and Jonathan Barthel.
The two attempted-murder charges each carry maximum penalties of 60 years in prison.
Starkman, 35, of 2521 Bond Place, Janesville, also was found guilty of burglary, fleeing and aggravated battery with intent to cause great bodily harm.
Judge James Daley is scheduled to sentence Starkman on March 28.
“The prosecution did a very good job. It made the decision really easy,” juror Mary Roth said afterward.
Victim Katrina Patrick was the mother of Starkman's two daughters, and together they had been the parents of five children for several years, according to testimony. The two had been separated for five weeks, Assistant District Attorney Rich Sullivan said.
Starkman testified he visited the children every day after the breakup, often reading to them and tucking them in.
Starkman on April 13 took the children from Patrick's apartment to sleep over at a friend's house, but he returned to the apartment on South Main Street later that night, apparently because he believed Patrick was starting a romantic relationship with Barthel, Sullivan said.
Starkman testified he wanted Barthel out of the apartment, so he took a roofing hatchet he had bought years before at Goodwill and went up the steps. He encountered Patrick on the porch, where he hit her twice in the head with the ax blade, according to testimony.
Starkman continued into the apartment and attacked as Barthel backed up. Starkman struck him in the head with the hammerhead side of the ax, crushing his skull, according to testimony.
Starkman hit Barthel numerous times before leaving the apartment. Defensive wounds on Barthel's arm showed the waffle-like pattern of the hammer head, according to testimony.
Patrick, who had lost a piece of her scalp and was bleeding from her wounds, jumped from the porch—a drop of 5 to 6 feet—to get out of Starkman's way, according to her testimony.
Starkman said he had just wanted to get Patrick away from the door so he could get Barthel out of the house.
Starkman said he yelled at Barthel to get out and then attacked him, stopping because of the injuries.
“I did not want to do any further damage than was already done. I was just really scared I would hurt him,” Starkman said.
Starkman testified he drove to Rockford, Ill., threw the hatchet into a wooded area and spent the night in his car in a motel parking lot.
The next day, Starkman returned to the Janesville apartment and approached Barthel's car.
A neighbor testified Starkman had a rag and a funnel in his hand, and that the car's gas-tank door was left open, although the neighbor didn't see Starkman do anything.
The defense suggested the gas-tank story was a fabrication.
Starkman again left the scene, and a chase ensued south on Interstate 90/30. Starkman said he speeded to at least 100 mph and passed cars on the shoulder.
Starkman exited at Beloit and tried to hide among some semitrailer trucks parked at a gas station. That's where police caught up to him.
In closing arguments Wednesday, Sullivan said Starkman was trying to minimize his actions and state of mind.
Starkman was determined that if he couldn't have Patrick, then no one could, Sullivan said.
Sullivan stood in front of the jury and repeatedly mimicked the downward swings of the ax, driving home his argument that Starkman meant to kill.
“Hatchet! Head! Head!” Sullivan exclaimed at one point, acting out the blows to Barthel with each word. “Big blunt object! Beat the crap out of him as he lies on the ground!”
Starkman was 5 feet, 11 inches tall and 205 pounds at the time of the attack, he testified. He worked out regularly and worked for a moving company, so he was “a big, strong man,” in Sullivan's words.
Barthel was slighter and shorter, Starkman admitted.
Sullivan noted Starkman attacked the heads of both victims, adding, “That's intent to kill.”
Barthel would have died without surgery at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center, said emergency-room Dr. Merle Rust, and Patrick would have quickly bled out and died if the blow to her skull had been less than an inch from where it landed.
Starkman's angry text messages to Patrick, his extreme violence and the testimony of other witnesses all show Starkman's state of mind and his intent to kill, Sullivan said.
“We see an enraged man, a big man, who was losing control,” Sullivan said.
Defense attorney Valerie Zisman acknowledged Starkman's actions but tried to prove he did not intend to kill.
Starkman loved his children, so he would not have wanted to leave them without their mother, Zisman said.
He stopped attacking her after she was out of his way, Zisman said, and if he thought she was dead at that point, why was it so important for Starkman to get Barthel out of the house?
Starkman likewise did not intend to kill Barthel, Zisman said, because he was shouting to get Barthel out of the house, not that he was going to kill him.
Zisman noted that Starkman used the blunt side of the hatchet on Barthel, stopped when he saw how hurt Barthel was and knew Barthel was alive when he left because Barthel was still kicking to defend himself.
Zisman noted Starkman's strength: “If he wanted them dead, … they would've died before he ever left that apartment.”
Sullivan said the victims were happy with the verdict.
“We were very happy we were able to get justice for the victims,” Sullivan added.
While Starkman faces a lengthy prison sentence, his victims still suffer from their injuries.
Patrick has headaches from doing daily tasks, such as cleaning the floor or picking up her daughters, Sullivan said.
Barthel, a commercial pilot, has been grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration for five years because of his injuries, Sullivan said.