Who gets the murderer’s birthday money?

Daryl Strenke

Daryl Strenke points out restitution conflicts, lack of records

Greg Marsten | Staff writer

BALSAM LAKE – One of Polk County’s most tragic and troubling homicide cases is back before the court, not in a typical fashion but instead as a sort of challenge to several policies involving restitution, record keeping and even how legislative changes can cloud past settlements.

In a nutshell, the man who is a confessed and convicted killer is claiming that he never had a hearing on restitution but is being charged anyway and he is claiming that recent changes have effectively nullified a portion of his sentence and make it so he cannot even receive a monetary birthday gift.

Daryl Strenke, 53, formerly of rural Luck, murdered his estranged ex-girlfriend, Samantha Verby, in cold blood with a shotgun in the early-morning hours of Sunday, June 30, 2002, at her mobile home, just a few yards from the Polk/Barron county line in Comstock.

Verby died as her 7-year-old daughter slept in a nearby room. Her friends hustled the child out, still asleep, so she would not see the horrific scene.

Strenke turned the 12-gauge on himself and effectively blew the lower half of his face off in a failed suicide attempt.

First responders and a battery of medical professionals were able to save Strenke’s life, but the cost of his surgeries, security and high maintenance for his medical care became an issue for law enforcement, Polk County and then the state – an issue that resurfaced again years later.

In a late 2002 plea bargain, Strenke pleaded guilty to second degree intentional homicide, avoiding a possible life sentence.

Retired Judge Robert Rasmussen sentenced Strenke to a total of 60 years, with 30 years of incarceration and another 30 years of extended supervision.

Strenke is halfway through his prison sentence but a question surfaced recently about his restitution, apparently coming to light after legislative action and a software change at the prison where he is being held.

That software apparently showed Strenke owing over $8,400 in restitution, in three combined areas: open restitution, surcharges and court-ordered restitution.

However, as far as anyone can remember, Strenke never had a restitution hearing and his Department of Corrections documentation appeared to show it was still an open question, stating it was “TBD by the Courts.”

Strenke has petitioned the court for a hearing and while the process was delayed for over a year, he appeared by phone before Judge Michael Waterman on Monday, Sept. 18, where the question was officially raised and addressed.

While there seems to be no doubt that Strenke should have been ordered to pay restitution, there seems to be no real record of that documentation, amount or even a hearing, which was supposed to have occurred within 60 days of his conviction, with Strenke legally allowed another month after that to review and possibly question the amount.

It is unclear if Strenke is able to work or if he makes money at the Kettle-Moraine Correctional Institute in Plymouth, but his own court documents suggest that he does receive small gifts, on occasion, such as from relatives for his birthday or on holidays.

Strenke objects to that DOC “garnishment” policy and while there are few that might sympathize with the action, his objection does raise a possible point, that relatively recent action by the Legislature and the DOC may essentially nullify his sentencing agreement by applying any and all money he receives or assets that may be or were sold to that restitution amount, which he claims he has never seen or reviewed.

Court documents seem to show that his restitution account is in arrears, so it includes approximately $401 in surcharges, because it has not been paid.

Strenke first sought a court order late in 2016 to review the new DOC software related to his account, which led to the issue eventually being reopened and his court appearance this week.

Strenke is now represented by attorney Daniel Chapman, a public defender, who noted to Judge Waterman in the status conference that there seems to be no record of his restitution or when it was compiled.

“When was it (restitution) determined?” Chapman asked the court. “We’re not even sure a file exists, as it was over 15 years ago.”

Waterman pointed out that some of Strenke’s property “appears to have been sold a decade ago,” with the money being applied to the restitution, but as to how that restitution was decided, if it was, appears to have fallen through the cracks.

“We’re asking the state to turn over the records, to determine if Mr. Strenke can review those (documents),” Chapman said.

Polk County District Attorney Jeff Kemp said they should be able to find any missing  records “in a few weeks” and the state has been given until Friday, Oct. 20, to find and introduce those records for review. Since Verby’s murder, there have been four Polk County district attorneys.

Strenke, Kemp and Chapman will appear again before the judge on Nov. 14, where they will review the findings and records, if they are found.

“We’re not sure there ever was a restitution hearing, as we can find no record of it ever happening,” Chapman said.

It is unclear what would occur if the records cannot be found or if documentation cannot be determined.

Strenke is apparently so destitute he had to request the state pay for the postage on his court records request and while there seems to be no way he would ever pay a restitution amount of any size while he is incarcerated, he will be released, at some time, and may work again.

The question and precedent may apply to other incarcerated men and women down the line, when it comes to nullifying or changing past sentences with legislative action.

At issue is whether things like personal gifts or the sale of personal property would count or be required to go toward restitution, which Strenke claims is a violation of the law at the time of his conviction and subsequent sentencing.

In a court document from this spring, the DOC cited Legislative Act 355, enacted in April 2016, which allows such requirements of applying all monies received toward restitution debts while incarcerated.

However, Strenke claims that is an ex post facto violation, since he was sentenced under previous standards and laws.

Regardless of the latest court finding, Strenke will stay in prison and is tentatively set to be released from Kettle-Moraine in July, 2030, at age 70. He will then begin 30 years of extended supervision, until his death or age 100, whichever comes first.

Besides the troubling murder of Samantha Verby, Strenke’s case garnered national media attention in 2009, when he requested to have the state pay for some level of reconstructive surgery on his disfigured face.

That request raised all sorts of questions about what and whether taxpayers should pay for when it comes to inmates.

While there were unspecified procedures done to aid his breathing, Strenke’s medical activity is protected by patient confidentiality laws.

He did speak briefly on the phone during the Sept. 18 hearing, but it is unclear what types of surgery he had or how much any medical procedures cost the state.