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Dylan Bartsh would be serving a minimum prison sentence of 20 years had he been convicted of intentionally killing his 3-year-old daughter.

Instead Bartsh, who deprived his child of food, water and care, is serving just five years.

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Dylan Bartsh

Dylan Bartsh

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Audryna Grace Bartsh

Audryna Bartsh

His case left the girl’s mother — and others in the community — questioning how her daughter’s killer got off with such a light punishment.

Audryna Bartsh died on Oct. 31, 2014, after a seizure three days earlier. The child, who lived with Bartsh and his then-girlfriend in Holmen, was abused and starved.

La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke in February 2015 filed identical charges of child neglect resulting in death and physical abuse of a child, both as party to the crime, against Dylan Bartsh and Jaymie Rundle.

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Tim Gruenke

Gruenke

Audryna died of malnutrition and dehydration, or chronic neglect, and not from the physical injuries she also suffered, Gruenke said. The case didn’t satisfy the elements required to charge first-degree intentional homicide. and a child neglect resulting in death charge carries the same maximum penalties as second-degree reckless homicide.

Rundle later provided recordings and information of the “extensive abuse” Bartsh inflicted on her and Audryna, Gruenke said.

Her statements were consistent with Bartsh’s history of domestic violence. Rundle also had no criminal record, cared for own children and called 911 when Audryna suffered a seizure on Oct. 28, 2014, Gruenke said.

Rundle pleaded no contest to a reduced misdemeanor charge of child neglect as party to the crime and was sentenced in September by La Crosse County Circuit Judge Elliott Levine to eight months on electronic monitoring.

Bartsh’s case was set for trial when he agreed to plead guilty to a charge of being party to the crime of child neglect resulting in death, the most serious charge filed in his daughter’s death, for which he faced 15 years in prison. In exchange, Gruenke agreed to argue for a prison sentence, leaving the length to the judge’s discretion.

“We didn’t think we were giving much up,” Gruenke said. “(The judge) still had the full range of penalty available to him.”

In many cases, parties don’t dispute what happened — just what the punishment should be, Gruenke said.

“In a plea, the defendant recognizes, ‘I did it,’” Gruenke said. “It’s not a strategic way to get rid of cases.”

Audryna’s mother wanted the conviction without sitting through days of testimony detailing what led to the death.

“You never know what a jury is going to do,” Gruenke said.

Gruenke and Audryna’s mother believed recommending prison without specifying a sentence length was safe — that the judge would see that Bartsh subjected his daughter to ongoing torture and impose “a substantial number of years,” the prosecutor said.

But a maximum sentence is rarely, if ever, imposed.

“Audryna’s mother felt no number of years would bring Audryna back,” Gruenke said. “We wanted to make sure he was held accountable.”

At sentencing, judges consider the seriousness of the charge, the defendant’s character, the protection of the public and a multitude of other factors — including the defendant’s background and behavior on bond — before imposing punishment. They’ll use attorney arguments, the victims’ wishes and pre-sentence investigation reports.

“There’s no mathematical equation,” Gruenke said.

As promised, Gruenke argued Bartsh be imprisoned because he subjected his young and helpless daughter to a slow and painful death. Bartsh, who has a record of domestic violence, could have helped her at any point, he told the judge.

In Bartsch’s defense, his attorney pointed out that Bartsch accepted responsibility for the neglect, complied with conditions of his bond and has successfully completed probation before.

The presentence investigation writer recommended a sentence of seven years.

Levine gave Bartsh five.

“(The victim’s mother) was disappointed that the judge went under the recommendation and didn’t have a clear explanation why,” Gruenke said.

Levine said Wisconsin Supreme Court rules prohibit judges from discussing their cases.

In many cases, Gruenke said, it’s difficult to address victims disappointed by a sentence and to speak for the judge.

“I respect the judge’s role at sentencing. Our system is made of human beings who have different views on what an appropriate number is,” he said. “In any case, reasonable people will disagree with what it appropriate. There’s no magic number that’s justice under everyone’s definition.”

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Anne Jungen can be reached at ajungen@lacrossetribune.com or follow her on Twitter at @LCTCrimeCourts.

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(48) comments

sharkcutie

Here is the law on various forms of homicide in Wisconsin: https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/940/I/01 Read it before commenting on whether there was sufficient evidence to charge Bartsch with murder. In addition, the child's own mother did not want to go through a lengthy trial. If you don't want to go through a trial, you have to plead the matter. When you plead a case, the defendant generally gets a better result than he or she would have if the trial resulted in a guilty verdict. This is how the system works. If you want something different and pay more taxes, vote your opinions.

laxlax

Most people aren't disputing the charge. They are upset and disputing the fact that the DA cut a deal, which is pretty normal (not that we like it), but left the sentencing up to the judge. Based on what his plea deal was, the maximum sentence was 15 years. People are questioning why he only received 5 years and is eligible for early release programs.

Buggs Raplin

He pled to a crime for which he could have gotten 15 years. He got 5 years. The public is not happy with Levine or Gruenke on this.

Cassandra2

Gee, Chippy, you find the article after claiming the Tribune had taken it down, but were called out on yet another of your lies. Surprise, surprise, surprise!

Buggs Raplin

Fat Cassie, they took it off screen. I complained; they put it back on screen. Chalk one up for Buggs.

Cassandra2

Yeah, Chippy, everybody is out to get you. What a pathetic loser.

Cassandra2

Local paranoid lunatic Chip Denure is ranting in other forums that he can't find this article and that it was taken down by the media elites as part of a conspiracy and cover-up of the criticism generated by the sentence. It took me less than 10 seconds to find the article, but for Chippy it is just more proof that the world is conspiring against him. How pathetic.

Buggs Raplin

Folks, Cassie is a jilted woman. I won't go out with her because she's obese. She's desperate going to the top of these boards because earlier the Tribune took this topic off screen, when comments were critical of Levine and Gruenke. The Tribune put it back on screen after my criticism. Fat Cassie must work for the Tribune.

Cassandra2

Liar, liar, pants on fire. They never took it down, Chippy. That's just another paranoid delusion. You are such a juvenile twit. Can't you come up with some better and more appropriate insults, you pathetic loser?

Cassandra2

Now Chippy is claiming that because he exposed the Tribune, they were forced to reinstate the article. His delusions know no bounds.

Logged

People like this you don’t need to put any where. Just put a bullet in them an be done with it. 1 less burden on society.

Cassandra2

Logged is just another wingnut who hates the Constitution and its guarantee of due process. Just another anarchist thug in favor of mob vengeance. How pathetic.

LaCrosse Lady

Prosecutors are supposed to represent the victims. It’s the only voice the victims of murder have.

In this case everyone took the easy path and justice for this child was not served.

Cassandra2

Prosecutors are supposed to represent the LAWS that are on the books and work toward getting convictions based on the available evidence.

Jusssayin'

DOC recommends 7...for a murder. Proof again it's all a numbers game. Don't over-stuff those prisons. Taxpayers don't want to build prisons...where do we put them? The whole system is flawed! Maybe they can social work him and give him the love he lacked. Motivational interview and give him formal warnings . 😟

Jusssayin'

Where was the victim's mother in all of this?!? She must have no custody if she has no idea she is tortured. These are cases the voters need to remember. NO justice for that little girl!

lutefisk

You should read more

GrandpaS

I've gone off quite a bit already about this case, but I would like to say one more thing: The editorial in last Sunday's Tribune about this case stated the list of scratches to the neck, wounds to the head, bruises, etc., plus the fact that Aubryna weighed 4 pounds LESS when she was 3 than when she was 2. To Judge Levine and anyone else in the court system: When you hear a case like this, try to imagine you reaction if you walked up to one of your kids or grandkids or even a niece or nephew and a situation like Aubryna's is what you found. What would be your reaction? No, you can't step outside the law, but in this case, it sounds like you could have delivered a much stronger sentence, and I am asking you to do that. It was absolutely, undeniably called for. How could you listen to this heart-breaking, gut-wrenching tale of a 3 year-old's misery, and deliver such a lousy, absolutely inadequate sentence of 5 years? The next time you hear a story like this, I hope you will think of a child you love getting this treatment. The handling of this case was just plain wrong, and if the people involved could be indicted for their horrible handling of this case, they would be found guilty. Sleep well, Your Honor.

mamasboy

VERY well said Grandpa!!

lutefisk

This should come as no surprise. The history of lacrosse county is in the top 3 most lenient in the state. Milwaukee and Dane are the other.
This sentence is way too light. Unfathomable.. sadly.. not a shock to me

Proud LAX Dem

DA must be feeling the pressure. I can’t remember the last time I saw a DA defend a sentencing decision this publicly before. Must have been a lot of angry phone calls.

DMoney

I know for a fact he did. And emails. The people and members of the community are in charge, these elected officials are our representatives, and they failed. Time for us to find some people with more logic and decency.

YellowBee

They knowingly with held food and water...that isn't murder?? Just because she didn't have any bruising doesn't mean it was intentional murder!!!!!!!

El Duderino

I’ve mentioned this in a previous article, but Levine made him eligible for early release and knocked nearly 3 months off for time served.

So, starving, beating, and torturing an infant is worth about, roughly, 3 years in the end? Even for the pre-sentence investigation to recommend 7 years was pathetic.

This was a failure: especially to that baby, but also her mother, other family, and the entire community that is enraged and heartbroken by this.

42 months from death to conviction, and this is the result?

This is the most evil thing I’ve seen occur in my 2 decades living here, just unthinkable.

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mamasboy

Evil and unthinkable are the perfect terms to use, both for the behavior of "Dad", and the the decision making of the judge.

GrandpaS

“I respect the judge’s role at sentencing. Our system is made of human beings who have different views on what an appropriate number is,” he said. How on earth can anybody have different views on an appropriate number for this sadistic bustard's treatment of his daughter? I, too, respect a judge's role in sentencing, but I can NOT accept this sentence. It defies understanding. This guy knowingly and uncaringly killed his daughter. There is no other interpretation. This is NOT a situation where the parent accidentally slipped and bumped his child down the steps. This is a situation where he knowingly and repeatedly beat her and starved her, WITH a record of priors before this. Man.......

Buggs Raplin

Judging from the comments, the Tribune's damage control article has failed.

GrandpaS

The damage control definitely failed, but I don't think it was the Tribune's failure. It was the DA and the judge's failure. Some horrible mistakes are just not justifiable. This is one of them.

Buggs Raplin

Gramps, the Tribune always...always defends the local establishment when they mess up. Thus today's headline article.

Cassandra

Part of the deep state conspiracy, no doubt.

TheProphet

yeah. wasn't a murder case. she died of natural causes. it is natural for a toddler to die of starvation, happens all the time. and like the other article said. she didnt want to eat or didnt make herself dinner or didnt have a job to buy groceries or... oh wait its a toddler. completely dependant on an adult. and that adult beat and starved her to death. definitely not a murder case.

canman

Convictions for murder have been handed down with a lot less evidence. Gruenke should have charged this idiot with murder along with the other charges and let the jury decide the appropriate charges. Hopefully the inmates will dole out the justice that Gruenke and Levine have failed at.

SaturnAscends

The gravity of the injustice against Audryna Bartsh, by Bartsch, Gruenke, and Levine, will forever bend the Scales of Justice, in this County and City. Empty excuses where excuses need not have been necessary.

LaCrosse Lady

A DA unable to TRUST people to find this monster guilty of murder - so settles for this - needs to go.

So judge and DA - time to go.

Too many sentences have been bare minimum-many because of ridiculous plea agreements. Sometimes the DA needs to trust a jury to see the obvious. This child did not starve to death in one day. It was old, callous disregard of her life. Maybe he didn’t know when she would died - but I’m sure it wasn’t a surprise. A jury would have had to be stupid to think otherwise. Sometimes juries do get it wrong - but plea agreements for way to low sentences get it wrong most of the time. Another problem with a plea agreement is the judge may not get the full impact of the crime.

But with monsters like this getting slaps on the wrist, and repeat drug dealers committing crimes while out on bail for another drug offense / things have got to change in this city.

madmen60

The DA said it wasn't a murder case. He can't charge murder if the elements aren't present. 5 years is not a "slap on the wrist."

DMoney

You're right, it's not a slap on the wrist. It's a tap on the finger. How can you possibly believe that this punishment comes remotely close to justice?

LeopoldStotch

Not enough to charge murder? Then they should have hit him with the biggest sentence possible with what they had. Instead they give him a quarter of the maximum and less than the recommended sentence. Gruenke knows these judges and knew how this would end. Him and Levine failed this poor, poor girl.

LaCrosse Lady

Sounds like time to vote them both out.

Hope someone starts recall petitions and posts where to sign them.

Rick Czeczok

The DA is just as responsible for the next child's death as the person who kills them as they now know the way out. I am going to do every thing I can do to make this go viral, and report this to all news agencies in the US. Others please do the same to shame this man. The DA's effort to talk his way out of this is nothing less then pathetic. He needs to be held accountable for what he has done to this child and the next ones.... Shame on you and you should be thrown out of this states bar...

DMoney

Agreed. I will be sending out some emails as well. We can't let someone torture a child to death get away with 5 years. It's unconcsious able.

GrandpaS

Go for it, Rick. In this case, the defendant was NOT held accountable except to an absolutely miniscule degree, so the DA and judge must be. Judge Leven, especially, just plain blew it. And as someone else mentioned, a jury would have hung this animal.

Cassandra2

Czozkzkekrkz message brought to you by Russian Bots for Personal Accountability.

awol2009

Gruenke and Levine both failed at justice for this child. SMDH

DMoney

While I appreciate that the DA attempted to make a statement in response to public outrage over the prison term, this statement only makes me more angry. If you have the power and authority to set a minimum term limit--then do it!! Why punt it to someone else? This is the worst crime I can recall in Western Wisconsin and the guy gets 5 years (probably less). No amount of excuses or finger pointing will ever make up for it.

DaisyL

How could anyone not think this child's death wasn't intentional. He sure as hell wasn't trying to make her healthy by not feeding her & beating her. He should have gotten the 20. If he's allowed 1 day for every good behavior day in prison he's again out in like 2 1/2 years. What kind of message has this sent to him? This wasn't his first rodeo for abuse.

TheProphet

ooh.. i think i understand it now. in order to not be charged with murder all you have to do is beat and starve someone to death. what a phucked up system.

TheProphet

ooh.. i think i understand it now. in order to not be charged with murder all you have to do is beat and starve someone to death. what a phucked up system.

El Duderino

Wow...just wow.

Gruenke & Levine both have to go, its as simple as that. This article is an avenue for for Gruenke to make excuses, and good luck making people buy any of it. What do you think happens when you don’t feed someone or, possibly, force them to ingest salt? Death ya say? How does that not show a level of premeditation and intent to take a life? Pretty sure the baby girl didn’t consent, eh? Didn’t she have a fractured skull, along with the approximately 100 other scars and injuries discovered?

You don’t know how a jury would react? Do the comments on here serve as a barometer? They’d deliberate for 5 minutes to go vomit because they couldn’t give “dad” life and immediately convict the hell out of him.

Thank God for elections and the opportunity for change.

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