Prosecutor: Victim’s family ‘extremely unhappy’ with plea deal

Prosecutors reject life without parole option in Savon Schmus murder case

Left to right: A courtesy photo of McKenna Hilton; an Aug. 25 photo of Savon Schmus during his arraignment.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The family of an East Kentwood graduate who was murdered by her half brother in Grand Rapids is “extremely unhappy” with a plea deal in the case, according to the Kent County prosecutor.

Savon Schmus appeared in court Monday and pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder in the 2016 death of 18-year-old McKenna Hilton. In return for the plea, the prosecutor’s office agreed to not pursue a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Authorities earlier said Schmus confessed to strangling Hilton at the Grand Rapids apartment the two shared with their father and Hilton’s mother. Schmus then allegedly drove Hilton’s body in her car to Grand Rapids Township where he dumped her body. A dog walker discovered her body on Aug. 18, 2016.

Prosecutor Chris Becker said his office decided to ask for a prison term of 30 to 40 years, given Schmus was 16 years old at the time of the crime, had no past criminal history, no record of violence at school and has never gone through behavioral or criminal rehabilitation.

He said the decision was based on U.S. Supreme Court decisions in which the justices ruled an automatic sentence of life without parole against a juvenile murderer was unconstitutional except against “the rare juvenile offender who exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible.”

Becker said he did not think his office would be successful in pursuing a life sentence without parole in this case, given the circumstances.

“There is no question this was a particularly heinous crime — strangling his half sister to death was completely unprovoked and without justification. This is not the sole determining factor,” Becker stated in a Monday news release.

Becker said Hilton’s mother and her relatives “strenuously objected to any sort of offer,” preferring a life sentence without parole for Schmus. He said they were “more than willing to fight for McKenna and her memory,” but ultimately understood.

“There isn’t a day that you’re not sad, because there’s always some milestone,” Hilton’s mother Stacey Hilton said. “You don’t ever move on from the grief of child loss. It stays with you. It’s nothing you get better from.”

Stacey Hilton said she thinks Schmus should have been eligible for the same punishment he would have received had he committed the crime two years later once he was an adult.

“There is no difference between his thought process when he murdered my daughter and the thought process of other people,” she said.

The father of Schmus and Hilton was hoping for a lesser sentence than the one the prosecutor’s office is pursuing, according to Becker.

“This is an unspeakable tragedy for the entire family,” Becker said.

Schmus is expected back in court for sentencing Oct. 30. Stacey Hilton will be there. She said there will be no statement of forgiveness.

“That’s not in my heart to forgive him and I never will,” she said, adding no punishment would bring her closure. “Simply because there is nothing that could bring McKenna back.”