KENTLAND, Ind. (WLFI) - A second person arrested in connection to West Lafayette native Nicole Bowen's homicide has been sentenced. Garett Kirts will spend 55 years behind bars for his crime. He is the main killer in this homicide. The prosecution and the defense agreed upon the sentence length as part of his guilty plea agreement.
Christopher Mathis received his guilty plea agreement sentencing in September. Newton Superior Judge Daniel Molter sentenced him to 912 days of incarceration for one charge of assisting a criminal.
As we previously reported, Bowen was murdered on March 30th 2019. Court documents say Kirts strangled Bowen to death, bound her body with a blanket, tape and cords, and left her body in a storage shed in Kentland. A property owner found her body in the area of CR 1275 S., east of CR 600 W.
About a dozen people sat on the prosecution side of the courtroom, all wearing masks. Some wore shirts that said #JusticeForNicole. Bowen's family brought photos to display in the courtroom and had a slide show of photos playing throughout the entire hearing. The photos showed a happy Bowen going through different milestones in her life. Some were from when she appeared to be high school aged, others showed her with her two young boys. The final photo on the slide show was of her gravestone, which was picked out by her mother.
The state first called on Bowen's aunt, Ginger Prater, to give a statement before the court. She first started by saying she believed that someone should serve a life sentnece for taking a life. She thanked those who made efforts to investigate and seek justice for her niece. She also said she struggled to figure out the words she needed to express her feelings. It is clear that Nicole's family has struggled immensely with her loss and are still grieving nearly two years later.
She said Nicole is now with God, but that she was not taken by an act of God. She said to Kirts that he chose to take Nicole's life. She called the act senseless, cruel and sadistic.
She remembered how Nicole was a loving mother to her two young boys. She said as a daughter, granddaughter, cousin, niece and mother, there were people who loved Nicole. She talked of the heartbreak knowing that the youngest of Nicole's sons, who was a little more than two years old at the time, won't have memories of his mom. She said Nicole won't have the chance to watch her boys grow, graduate, get married, celebrate birthdays or meet her own grandchildren.
"Who gave you that right?" she asked directly to Kirts. Kirts spent most of the time looking down at the defense table in front of him.
Prater said she watched Nicole grow up. She described her niece as a smiling, goofy person who loved to fish, sing and do karaoke. She said she had a close relationship with her niece, and that Nicole would often confide things in her that she wouldn't tell others.
She said she got a call from Nicole the Thursday before she died. She said Nicole wasn't being her normal, bubbly self on the phone. She described her unusual behavior as nervous and in a hurry. And most troubling, Nicole told her she would tell her later what was wrong.
"Later never came," she said with a tone of despair. Sniffling could be heard in the courtroom from Nicole's friends and family by this point in the hearing.
She said she will never forget the shock of learning just a few days after that phone call that her niece was tragically murdered. She wondered aloud: what was it that Nicole knew about Kirts that lead to him killing her?
"Why did you take her breath away?" she asked of Kirts. "You said you loved her to death."
Ultimately, she said her only comfort is knowing Nicole is in God's hands now. She said she did not think a 55-year sentence was fair. As time will slowly pass for Kirts in his jail cell, she hoped he remembered what he did every second of it. She said she does not forgive him for what he took away from their family. She brought photos of where Nicole's body was found. She demanded that Kirts look up from the table at this point and look at those photos, to acknowledge what he did.
She said she prays for his family members because of the struggle they are going through, but she said it's not the same as the hurt her family is feeling. She concluded by saying, "I hope you can get your life right with God."
Next, Nicole's mother, Cheryl Samuels, took the stand to give her statement. She said while she understands the terms of the guilty plea agreement, if she had it her way, this would be an eye-for-an-eye kind of punishment. She pointed out the pictures on display in the courtroom, saying she wanted them ingrained in Kirts' brain.
She said her older daughter was so excited at the arrival of her new baby sister when Nicole was born. Nicknamed "Cole Baby," she described Nicole as an entertainer, adventurous and someone who loved the outdoors and working with her hands. She said Nicole was so excited to build a playhouse for kids as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer. She said she loved spending time with Nicole doing crafts and gardening.
She remembered listening to the radio they day they found a woman's body in a shack in Newton County. She remembered thinking about the family of the woman and couldn't imagine the thought of losing a child.
"652 days ago, I found out the child was mine," she said in a voice filled with the agony she has felt over the past two years.
She had to tell Nicole's children that their mom was murdered. She said they kept asking why. She had to tell her oldest daughter that her sister was dead. When Nicole was laid to rest on April 5th, she remembered her oldest granddaughter crying at the funeral. At this memory, Samuels herself began to breakdown.
"How do I comfort that?" she asked. The day of the funeral was that same day that she got the call that someone had been charged for Nicole's murder. It's a day she said was the saddest and happiest day of her life, knowing someone would pay for taking Nicole away from them.
She didn't mince her words when she called Kirts' explanation of what happened "bullshit." At a previous hearing, Samuels remembered him telling the court Nicole had come up to Kentland for a "girl fight." She recalled him saying that Nicole "must die" because she was supposedly turning him in for his involvement with meth. However, Samuels said she believed it was something bigger.
"Can you not look at me when I'm talking to you?" she demanded of Kirts, who had gone back to looking at the defense table and not making eye contact. "Have the decency to look at me and these pictures."
There were four people sitting in the first row of seating behind the defense table. Samuels said she felt sorry for Kirts' family, but they still get to talk to their loved one. She said that Kirts does not deserve to breathe.
She thought of her grandsons, whose mother will never get to see them play sports. She said they don't get to make any more memories with her.
"How can you kill someone you love?" she demanded, her voice rising with anger and grief. "How do you put your arm around her neck and kill her? How dare you play God with my child. It was not your choice."
She said Kirts is a "sick, troubled, evil little boy, a coward." She said her family will never be whole again. She will never hear Nicole sing or go fishing with her.
"She was a good soul and you took her away," she said.
She finished by saying she would never forgive Kirts for his actions. She hoped that every time he closed his eyes, he saw Nicole's face as he choked her. She hoped he would relive that day over and over and that it would "drive you nuts."
"Rot in hell," she concluded. "I hope God never forgives you."
Kirts did not give a statement to the court. His defense attorney gave a brief statement where he thanked Nicole's family. He said this case in an example of how substance abuse can impact a community. He said nothing can excuse Kirts' actions. He said that unfortunately, there will never be fairness in a case like this, but that we have to focus on serving justice. He finished by asking the court to accept the terms of the guilty plea agreement.
Judge Molter began his statements, which he hoped would speak to the heart of those involved and not just the law. He said he has found that giving people the chance to speak brings them healing and he commended Nicole's family for their bravery.
To bring some context to how things have changed over time, Judge Molter said he took over the bench in Newton County 30 years ago. His predecessor presided over the courtroom for 44 years before him and had three murder cases in his tenure. This is Judge Molter's 15th murder case. He agreed with the defense in his assessment of the impact of drugs on communities. He said it affects everyone in the community, affluent or not.
He began to explain the dilemma that always faces judges in these types of cases: how can justice be shown to victims with permanent loss? How do you bring retribution for the loss of Nicole Bowen when she can never come back? What amount of money or service to the state is worth Nicole's life, memories and accomplishments? He said justice is best served through the parameters of our decades old, tried and true laws, even if it leaves wounds for some. He urged all to accept this agreement as best they can.
He commended the law enforcement agencies involved in this case. He said from the moment Nicole was found, no stone was left unturned. He thanked the local press outlets who have continued to bring truth and compassion to this tragic story. He thanked the prosecuting and defense teams and his own court staff for their hard work and dedication to making sure this was a fair case.
He hoped dignity and justice could be brought to Nicole, even though she had no choice in her fate. He urged those in the room to turn away from the outward temptations that only temporarily alleviate our struggles. Instead, he said as a civil society, we must do better at looking inward.
He then turned his attentions toward what he saw out of Kirts. He said that Nicole was brought up to Newton County under false pretenses. She was brought here by Kirts with the sole purpose to take her life for knowledge of drugs. He found Kirts to be callous and unremorseful when delivering his testimony at a previous hearing. He said no one came to help her in her final moments. He wondered what Nicole's final thoughts were as she died.
In these unprecedented times, he said that all we have to do is turn on the TV to see stories of people going into hospitals and dying alone at the hands of COVID-19, and those people committed no crime. He said we now have a way to empathize and possibly understand what Nicole may have felt.
"She left knowing she was someone special," said Judge Molter.
He agreed with the terms of the guilty plea agreement and sentenced Kirts to 55 years in the Department of Corrections in a maximum security cell. While Kirts does have the right to appeal this, since the agreement was agreed upon by both the state and the defense, he urged Kirts to waive that right.
"You have many years to think on your actions," he concluded, as he urged everyone in the courtroom to look inward to try and change society away from carnage and evil and towards goodness.
Ashley Garth's case is still in process. Garth faces one charge of murder, one charge of conspiracy to commit murder and one charge of assisting a criminal for her involvement in Nicole Bowen's death. According to court documents, she was romantically involved with Kirts. She described Nicole as the "rival and enemy" because she was also a woman in Kirts' life. Kirts told investigators that Garth helped him kill Bowen by starting a fight and helped him choke her. He said that Garth handed him the materials used to bind Bowen's body. She told police that she watched Kirts walk outside of the mobile home with Bowen's body.
A guilty plea agreement was filed for Garth in June, but was rescinded by the state in October. Garth has a pre-trial conference set for Wednesday, January 27th at 8:30 a.m.