MADISON - A drifter who was sentenced to 55 years in prison for helping to kill a member of her gang on Oneida Street in Portage and torturing the woman's 11-year-old son nearly to death was properly convicted, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
The 4th District Court of Appeals rejected Candice Clark's arguments that she should be allowed to withdraw her no contest plea because the judge didn't fully describe her options, a detective threatened her during an interview and her sentence was too harsh.
Clark's attorney, listed in online court records as David Karpe, didn't immediately return a call.
Clark and her gang's crimes shook Portage and south-central Wisconsin four years ago.
Prosecutors say Clark and her boyfriend, Michael Sisk, led a roving gang of identity thieves to Portage in February 2007. The group included Clark's 2-year-old daughter as well as 36-year-old Tammie Garlin, Garlin's son and her daughter, who was 15. Michaela Clerc, Garlin's former lover, also was part of the group.
Portage police officers searching for Clark's daughter, whom she had kidnapped from foster parents in Florida, tracked her to the group's rented house on Oneida Street. They discovered the boy, bloody and starving, locked in a closet and his mother buried in a shallow grave in the backyard.
The boy told detectives that everyone in the group except his mother had tortured him, according to a criminal complaint. Prosecutors believe the gang turned on Garlin at some point, torturing her alongside her son before they killed her.
According to court documents, Clark told police she whipped the boy with an extension cord, held the bathroom door closed while her boyfriend scalded him and smacked Tammie Garlin.
She and Sisk discussed getting rid of Garlin to keep her quiet about what was going on. After telling Sisk she couldn't deal with things anymore, Sisk went into a bathroom with Garlin and emerged 10 minutes later, saying either that Garlin was dead or it wouldn't be long. Clark also said she rode around in a car with Garlin's body in the trunk and she showed police where the body was buried.
The boy's sister testified that she helped torture her brother and heard Clark say she was going to bury her brother and mother alive.
Prosecutors filed multiple charges against everyone in the group, including the boy's sister. Clark eventually pleaded no contest to being a party to second-degree reckless homicide and guilty to a half-dozen other counts, including child abuse. She was sentenced to 55 years in prison in 2008.
Clark, now 27, argued on appeal she should be allowed to withdraw her pleas because Columbia County Circuit Judge Alan White didn't tell her she could have argued she was a bystander.
Her statements to police should have been suppressed, she said, because she was reacting to a detective who claimed he would make sure she never saw her children again and she was suffering from sleep deprivation, was hungry and hadn't received her diabetes medication.
She also argued that her sentence was too harsh because the judge improperly focused on her failure to save Garlin and her son.
The appeals court ruled the judge was under no obligation to tell Clark about potential defenses, and even if he was he probably wouldn't have concluded she was an innocent bystander, the appeals court said.
The detective actually said if it were up to him he would never let Clark see her children again, a "statement of revulsion" rather than a threat, according to the appeals court. Recordings show that Clark wasn't intimidated by the detective and actually got in several shouting matches with him, the court said. She also never complained about any distress, the appeals court noted.
As for her sentence, the court found White properly focused on Clark's actual criminal acts and wanted to send a message that people shouldn't ignore abuse.
Sisk and Clerc were sentenced in their own plea deals. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges against the boy's sister and moved her into juvenile court, where proceedings are secret.
Portage Police Officer Teresa Johnson and Lt. Tom Moore were the first officers to go to the Oneida Street house. They became suspicious about the person who answered the door and continued to investigate, which led to the gruesome discoveries.