A Payette man will spend at least two decades in prison for murdering his former girlfriend.
Judge Susan E. Weibe of the 3rd Judicial Court in Payette on April 16 imposed a 23-year fixed sentence for second-degree murder.
Cody Hays, 24, will be eligible for parole after 23 years. He could serve an additional 20 years after that point, but if the Parole Board releases him, he will have to be monitored or supervised until he is 67 years old.
Hays agreed to the 23-year fixed sentence in February when he pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of Amber Lee Schwenn.
Hays’ defense attorney, Phillip Heersink, asked the court for a seven-year indeterminate sentence in addition to the fixed sentence. The state recommended an indeterminate life sentence.
Heersink argued that Hays did not have a violent criminal record, and had been physically and sexually abused as a child. This past led him to substance abuse, Heersink said.
“We know in our dealings with people that are addicted to using drugs at a young age that they are emotionally stunted,” Heersink said. “Here is a 24-year-old man with a 14-year-old emotional depth.”
Weibe cited Hays’ “severe” substance abuse problem in her sentencing. She also said that based on the results of his psychological evaluation, Hays poses a high risk of violence again in the future.
The evaluation was conducted by forensic psychologist Chad Sombke, who concluded that Hays was a psychopath because he exhibited no emotion when recalling the details of the murder.
“When I’m looking at the protection of society, I have someone who presents a high risk to the public,” said Weibe.
According to deputy prosecuting attorney Josh Dolton, Sombke’s evaluation also concluded that Hays had an antisocial disorder, was impulsive, and the chances of him changing his lifestyle in the future “bodes poorly.”
Hays was arrested July 25 after Schwenn, 23, was found dead. He pleaded not guilty to homicide charges in August but changed his plea in February.
A police report says Hays told officers he had killed Schwenn and that they could find her body at his apartment. Payette County Coroner Keith Schuller said Schwenn was strangled to death.
According to a statement made April 16 by county prosecuting attorney Anne-Marie Kelso, Schwenn visited Hays’ apartment to drop off their son before she went to work. She went inside, and they had an argument.
Hays said Schwenn slapped him. He then tripped over his sandal.
“Then I lost it,” Hays said in the interview. “I’ve never been that angry in my life.”
That is when he strangled Schwenn. According to a statement by Kelso, death by manual strangulation takes three to five minutes of continuous pressure before death occurs.
After he killed Schwenn, Hays did not call an ambulance or the police, nor did he try to resuscitate her. Instead, he called his friend, Patrick Covey, to the scene.
According to an audio interview played at the sentencing, Covey saw Schwenn’s body with a black cloth bag over her head. Hays had covered her face after he killed her.
Covey said Hays asked him to help bury the body. After Covey declined, Hays threatened to kill him.
Hays also contacted Ashley Stewart, a woman he was dating at the time. Her interview was played at the sentencing hearing as well.
Stewart said Hays asked her to come to his apartment, where she saw Schwenn’s body. She said she attempted CPR to no avail. Hays then pulled a chair next to Schwenn’s body, lit a cigarette and said he needed to cover his tracks.
Stewart said she told Hays to call the cops.
“Then he came after me,” she said.
Kelso said strife probably existed between Hays and Schwenn long before July 25. Previous cellphone records show he repeatedly asked her to date him again. There were also at least two witnesses who said he admitted to wanting to kill her prior to July 25.
Schwenn’s mother, Stacy Schwenn, spoke at the sentencing.
“I never thought that seeing my daughter off to work that one day would have been the last,” she said. “I wasn’t prepared to lose my child.”
Schwenn also shared a child with Joshua Lucas, who also spoke at the sentencing. He said their daughter, Kailey Lucas, was 2 years old when Schwenn died. He said Kailey carries a framed photo of her mother everywhere she goes.
“She wakes up every morning saying her mom is going to take her to school,” he said.
Weibe asked Hays if he had any comments prior to sentencing.
“If I could trade places with her, I would,” Hays said. “I can’t imagine losing my child, and I’m sorry you had to go through that. I take responsibility for it, and I’m sorry I can’t take it back.”