Court records show discord in family years before homicide

Savon Schmus, 16, accused of murdering his sister McKenna Hilton

Savon Schmus is arraigned on an open murder charge on Aug. 25, 2016.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — One day after their daughter’s funeral, the parents of a slain 18-year-old watched as their 16-year-old son was formally charged with her murder.

This family has been in court before, but never with stakes this high.

Savon Schmus will be held without bail and moved from juvenile detention to the Kent County jail after being charged an adult with open murder in the death of McKenna Hilton. The teen, who faces life in prison if convicted, said nothing in a Grand Rapids courtroom Thursday other than to confirm he understood the charges against him.

Savon Schmus, McKenna Hilton
Savon Schmus is arraigned on an open murder charge on Aug. 25, 2016.

Police say Schmus confessed to strangling his half sister, Hilton, at the apartment of their father David Schmus in Lamberton Lakes Apartments, located in the 3000 block of Plaza Drive NE in Grand Rapids. Investigators say Schmus then drove Hilton’s body in her car around the other side of Lamberton Lake in Grand Rapids Township, where he dumped her body. Someone walking a dog discovered the body on Aug. 18 in the brush at Emerald Lake Drive and Valentine Street NE.

In court Thursday, Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Vicki Seidl asked the judge to deny bail and to move Schmus out of the juvenile facility.

“Based upon the age of many of the children at the facility, it does make sense, and I think there is sufficient proofs to place the defendant in detention at the Kent County jail,” Grand Rapids District Court Judge Michael Distel agreed.

The family of both the defendant and victim were in court. David Schmus yelled encouragement to his son as he was led from the courtroom.

This was not the first time this family had been in court.

In 2010, David Schmus pleaded guilty to taking a picture of Hilton, then 12, while she was in the shower. He faced as many as 15 years in prison because of previous convictions on drugs and illegal gun possession dating back to the 1990s. However, as a result of his plea, he received two years of probation along with requirements for counseling. He went on to violate his probation for possessing alcohol and had to spend several weekends in jail, according to court records.

As the case went before the judge, David Schmus’ family members wrote letters supporting him. They asked the court for leniency and to allow him to return home. Savon Schmus, then 10, sent Judge Paul Sullivan a handwritten note saying his father was a responsible man who loves his children and “would give his life for us, not hurt us.”

Letters from Savon’s oldest sister and Stacey Hilton, McKenna’s mother, defended David Schmus and implied the incident was a miscarriage of justice. They said McKenna and her father were arguing and that the camera showed there were no photos actually taken. They said David Schmus was forced into taking a plea deal because of the harsh penalty he was facing.

The sister also said that McKenna’s birth led to the divorce of her and Savon’s parents in 1999. Court records show that there were still actions over support for McKenna as late as May 2016. The older sister said McKenna and Savon shared a close relationship.

Stacey Hilton said that as a result of the 2010 experience, she had no trust in the court system.

Now, the family finds itself embroiled in that system again as the loved ones of both the victim and suspect in a murder trial that will play out over the next several months.

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