Sterling R. Olsen was 18 when he planned a robbery at a Janesville home two years ago, leading to a night of terror he says he never intended.
But the horror lives on for the family’s members, who have increased their counseling visits to deal with the memories, the mother told Rock County Judge James Daley at Olsen’s sentencing Thursday.
Olsen, 20, of 117 E. Racine St., Janesville, was sentenced on charges of party to armed robbery, burglary, false imprisonment, criminal damage and theft.
Daley said although Olsen was never in the house and things didn’t go as intended, none of it would have happened if Olsen hadn’t planned it.
Daley gave Olsen 12 years in prison and six years of extended supervision. That’s the longest prison term of any of the defendants sentenced so far.
It’s a stiffer sentence than recommended by the state Department of Corrections—eight years plus five years of supervision—or prosecutor Rich Sullivan, who recommended 10 years plus six of supervision.
The mother called Olsen a coward and said her family was terrorized when masked men entered their home, tied them up, pointed guns at them and threatened their lives.
“That will forever haunt us,” she said.
About 20 people sat with the family in court Thursday. They were just a portion of the support group her family has needed, the mother said. She told Olsen to turn and look at them, and he did.
Neighbor Scott Schroeder, who sheltered the family after the robbers left, likened Olsen’s actions to that of an arsonist who starts a fire that scars a family. These scars are on the inside, he said.
“You are a coward,” said Schroeder, clearly angered. “... I hope when you go to prison, they find you are a coward, as well.”
Sullivan said it was fortunate the invaders didn’t kill anyone.
“It was going that way,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said Olsen was trying to get revenge on the mother’s adult son, Brody Feggestad.
Feggestad had shown Olsen a wad of cash, and Olsen stole some of it from Feggestad. Later, Feggestad slapped Olsen when Olsen couldn’t pay it back, Sullivan said.
Olsen then conceived the plan to rob Feggestad of the money Olsen believed was in the house on Janesville’s east side, Sullivan said.
Olsen recruited a “monster,” Damien Hewlett, and four others to carry out the plan, Sullivan said.
Hewlett, said to be the cruelest of the home invaders, knew where to get handguns with laser pointers used in the invasion. The idea was to scare their victims into submission.
Daley sentenced Hewlett in September to seven years in prison and 13 years of extended supervision.
The youngest member of the family, a 12-year-old girl, was dragged from under a bed where she had hidden, Sullivan noted.
The girl wouldn’t enter the house afterward, Sullivan said, and the family had to abandon its “dream home.”
“It will impact her. It’s impacted the relationships in this family. Who wouldn’t doubt that it wouldn’t?” Sullivan said.
The neighborhood, where people once left their doors open, is also changed forever, Sullivan said.
Sullivan said Olsen gave a statement about the robbery only after he saw that he needed to help himself, Sullivan said.
Defense attorney Lane Fitzgerald disagreed, saying Olsen had a constitutional right to wait until he had a lawyer before revealing what he knew.
Fitzgerald said that as Olsen monitored what was going on at the house via cellphone and realized what was happening to the girl and the rest of the family, he cried.
What Olsen did was wrong, but if he had realized what was going to happen, he never would have done it, Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said his client is not beyond redemption. He called for three years in prison and six more of supervision.
Olsen said he was sorry.
“I’m not this type of person,” he said. “I wasn’t always looked at as this kind of person. I was doing good before this.”
Daley said Olsen told his five co-conspirators they could rip off a drug dealer, Feggestad.
Feggestad was not at the house, and the invaders repeatedly threatened the family to get them to reveal where the money was—thousands of dollars, they believed—according to the complaint.
They ended up taking various items of value.
“I will not forget the horror the family experienced while going through this whole thing,” Daley said. “.. You set that in motion.”
As Olsen stood, he asked Daley if he could hug his brother, seated behind him. Daley said he was now in the custody of sheriff’s deputies.
Olsen asked the deputy.
“No,” was the answer as the deputy escorted Olsen out the door.
The cases against two more defendants in the home invasion remain pending.
Nathan A. Natal of Beloit is scheduled for sentencing Wednesday, Feb. 28.
The case of Keyon M. McEachin of Beloit is continuing.