LeRoy man convicted of murder as a teen re-sentenced

Karl Strunk
Karl Strunk

OSCEOLA COUNTY — When he was a teenager sentenced to life in prison for murder, Karl Strunk had no chance of ever being released. Now, parole is a possibility in his future.

On Dec. 17, 1987, Strunk, 17 years old at the time, was convicted on first-degree murder and felony firearms charges for the murder of his father. On Jan. 25, 1988, the teen was sentenced in Osceola County’s Circuit Court to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On Feb. 9, 1987, the body of 43-year-old Rudi Strunk was found stuffed into a 55-gallon steel drum, which had been welded shut. Strunk, a machinist from LeRoy, had been shot to death. His son, Karl, 16 years old at the time, was arrested and charged with the crime.

In 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded juveniles should no longer face the possibility of mandatory life terms as this violated the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In 2016, justices held in the case of Montgomery v. Louisiana that the Miller decision should be applied retroactively to those already in prison.

While Strunk was the only juvenile lifer convicted in Osceola County, hundreds of cases throughout Michigan involve defendants who were not adults when sentenced to life in prison without parole. Because of the court's decision, states and the federal government are now required to consider the unique circumstances of each juvenile defendant. Unless a prosecutor can prove a defendant is "irreparably corrupt," juvenile lifers are entitled to be re-sentenced to a term of years in prison, the Supreme Court ruled.

In July 2016, former Osceola County Prosecutor Tyler Thompson filed a motion stating his intention to seek life without parole for Strunk. However, current Osceola County Prosecutor Anthony Badovinac reviewed the case and opted not to argue for life without parole.

"It was basically going to be an expert for the prosecution vs an expert for the defense — my expert against his," Badovinac said. "I chewed on this for a month and a half and decided I couldn't prove he is irreparably corrupt."

Instead, Badovinac and Strunk's defense attorney decided they would each argue for what sentences, in terms of years, they felt was appropriate.

On Dec. 8, a re-sentencing hearing for Strunk took place in Osceola County's 49th Circuit Court.

During the hearing, Badovinac noted records showed Strunk was a model prisoner and had done all he could while in prison to atone for his crime. However, he also urged the judge to look at the facts of the crime and to take into consideration the fact Struck had acted alone when he shot and killed his father, he was not acting under the influence of any controlled substances, nor was he under peer pressure and that an innocent life was taken.

Badovinac alluded to the fact Rudi Strunk would have, by average, lived for another 43 years and, therefore, a 43-year sentence could be deemed appropriate.

Having already served 30 years in prison,  Karl Strunk, his mother, his defense attorney and a former prison counselor all testified they believed Strunk should have a chance at parole. The prosecutor who tried and convicted him indicated, by letter, that Strunk should be paroled.

Ultimately, Judge Scott Hill-Kennedy re-sentenced Strunk to a minimum of 32 years in prison, after which he becomes eligible for parole, and a maximum of 60 years in prison.

Now 47 years old, Strunk will be able to request parole in 2019.

For Badovinac, the process brought mixed emotions.

"About 200 people showed up and packed into the courtroom in support of (Strunk)," he said. "It really moves you people took time out of their day to be there. I'm not sure what it says, but I was moved. I've done this for nearly 30 years and I don't get emotional but I found this situation quite emotional."

Badovinac noted the law has become more forgiving in a number of areas, with sobriety courts, domestic violence courts, veterans courts and drug courts. These are attempts to lessen the penalty associated with criminal activity, while trying to address the cause and not just treat the symptoms, he said.

“When you take a long look at the circumstances of the crime and the character of the defendant, as well as what type of prisoner they have been, you have to decide which ones you should argue for being maintained in prison and which ones should be considered for possible parole,” Badovinac said. “It can keep you up nights. I can only imagine what goes through the mind of a person convicted as a juvenile to life without parole, who is set for re-sentencing."