Judge issues sentence in manslaughter case, says crime shows ‘absolute spiritual emptiness’
One of the two men charged in beating a friend to death last year for money and drugs will spend the next 40 years in prison.
Payton Edward Strum, 23, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in January in the death of 27-year-old Joe Cynkar last July.
Cynkar’s hooded body was discovered July 19 near the banks of the Big Sioux River. Strum later admitted that he and 29-year-old Benjamin Carter attacked Cynkar at Carter’s home at 900 E. Hermosa Drive, where the victim had been staying.
All three men had been involved in methamphetamine trade, Deputy State’s Attorney Tom Hensley said Wednesday. The drug culture linked the three men and fueled the violence that took Cynkar’s life, Hensley said.
“(Strum) and his co-defendant bolstered their courage by using methamphetamine prior to the beginning of the beating,” Hensley said. “The beating just continued and continued and continued.”
Meth had become an aggravating factor in Strum’s failed adult life, defense lawyer Cynthia Howard said. Strum spent most of his teen years as a juvenile delinquent, in and out of the custody of the Department of Corrections. The pattern continued after his 18th birthday.
Strum used drugs to deal with his past, filled with memories of alcoholic father figures who beat his mother and lashed out at Strum and his sister, Howard said.
Carter and Strum intended at first only to rob Cynkar of money and meth, she said, but the situation soon escalated to the full-blown torture that led to Cynkar’s death.
“If there’s a bad guy in this case, it’s methamphetamine,” Howard said. “Clean and sober, Payton’s got a conscience and feels horribly about what he’s done. He’s said over and over, ‘I deserve whatever I get.’ ”
He understands that he’ll probably never have a relationship with his own son, Howard said.
On Wednesday, the victim’s family told Judge Peter Lieberman that Strum robbed their son of the chance to turn away from drugs and back towards a loving family.
“Despite him begging you to think of his young sons, you did not stop,” Cynkar’s sister, Jessica Harris, told Strum.
Those sons never will know what their father had the potential to become, said Joe Cynkar’s father, James. “You took that from them so you could have what you wanted at that moment,” he said.
Lieberman issued the sentence within the bounds of the plea agreement with prosecutors: Strum will serve 40 years of actual prison time before becoming eligible for parole and faces 20 more years in prison if he commits any violent or threatening act upon his release.
“This is a case involving an absolute spiritual emptiness on your part, Mr. Strum,” Lieberman said. “This is a case, frankly, that involves just plain meanness.”
Strum apologized quietly to Cynkar’s family in court Wednesday, but Lieberman said such words are hollow.
“For this killing, sir, there can be no meaningful apology,” the judge said. “Joseph, to whom you would make your apology, is not here to accept it or reject it.”