Original article no longer available
The Grand Rapids Press
Monday, January 12, 2004
By Doug Guthrie
Jon Siesling has admitted to police that he killed his mother and two sisters, but court records indicate his trial will open this week with an explanation from his lawyer that the real killer was “Johnny,” Siesling’s alter ego.
The 18-year-old Walker youth will plead insanity in hopes of avoiding three life sentences for the Jan. 22, 2003, slayings of Sharon Siesling, 42, and his sisters Katelin, 15, and Leah, 6.
Potential jurors filed into Kent County Circuit Judge James Redford’s courtroom about 9:45 a.m. today as selection began. Opening statements might be made and the first witnesses might be called as early as Tuesday.
Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth and Kent County Public Defender Richard Hillary are handling the trial.
The last time they faced off in court was in another high-profile insanity defense case, that of Federico Cruz, who was convicted in 1997 of beating and suffocating David Crawford along railroad tracks in Sparta. Crawford’s severed head was found outside Cruz’s home, the rest of his body in a swamp.
Before potential jurors were summoned today for the Siesling trial, Redford heard motions from Hillary.
Hillary asked that Redford not instruct jurors on a possible finding of guilty but mentally ill, where a defendant’s sentence is no different than on a straight guilty verdict, but that person receives mental health treatment while behind bars. Redford denied that motion.
Redford did tell Hillary that he would consider allowing Hillary a rebuttal about the insanity defense in closing arguments — a potentially rare chance for the defense to address jurors twice. In criminal trials, closing arguments normally consist of the prosecution’s argument, then the defense’s, then the prosecutor’s rebuttal.
An attorney in Hillary’s office, Patricia Eppler, filed notice with the court of her client’s intention to claim he was insane or at least mentally incompetent at the time of the killings. Insane persons cannot be held responsible for crimes, but instead are institutionalized until they are found to have recovered from their illness.
Siesling himself dialed 911 on the day of the killings and reported two men in a car with a loud exhaust had robbed his family in their home on Walker Avenue NW.
Police found Siesling at the front door, freshly showered and his hair still wet. There was blood throughout the home and on the walk and garage door out front. His sister Katelin’s body was found near an outside door. The body of his mother, Sharon, was in the kitchen. Leah’s body was found in her bedroom.
Katelin had been sexually assaulted. At least some of the victims were beaten with a baseball bat. All three were stabbed. Police found an 8-inch knife with a broken handle in the kitchen sink.
Eppler has said Siesling suffers from multiple personality disorder and depression. She said he was previously treated at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Byron Center.
Forsyth will present psychiatric experts to testify about Siesling and his mental state. Examinations at the state’s center for forensic psychiatry found Siesling fit to stand trial.
Forsyth has indicated in documents filed prior to trial that the experts will say Siesling’s “behavior is not consistent with his statements about an alter ego who controls his conduct.”
Tests of Siesling’s blood taken immediately after his arrest at the house that day show he hadn’t been drinking alcohol, but he had a chemical called fluoxetine in his system. Fluoxetine is a major ingredient of the antidepressant Prozac.
Three of Siesling’s friends are on a long list of witnesses to be called during the trial, two of whom Siesling spoke with on the telephone, possibly during or near the time of the slayings. In the days before the deaths, Siesling told another friend about wanting to kill family members. That friend told police he thought Siesling was joking.
Siesling also told the friend he had been kicked out of the house by his father.
Jan Siesling, 56, is a truck driver and was not home at the time of the slayings.
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The Washington Post
Mich. Man Gets Life for Family Killings
The Associated Press
Monday, February 23, 2004; 9:47 PM
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – An 18-year-old man was sentenced Monday to life in prison with no possibility of parole for the slayings of his mother and two sisters.
Jon Siesling expressed sorrow during his sentencing hearing.
“I would just like to apologize to all those involved for all the pain and loss I’ve caused. I had no intention … of doing what I’ve done,” Siesling said before a judge passed the state-mandated sentence.
Kent County jurors deliberated for a little more than an hour Jan. 15 before convicting Siesling of three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his mother, Sharon Siesling, 42; and sisters Katelin Siesling, 15, and Leah Siesling, 6.
They died Jan. 22, 2003, after being stabbed with a large kitchen knife and beaten with a baseball bat at the family’s home.
Richard Hillary, the county’s public defender whose insanity defense was unsuccessful, said he will appeal the conviction and sentence.
“Jon has some severe mental problems and did on that day, and they reached a peak and he snapped,” Hillary told WOOD-TV after the hearing.