Family members talk about impact of stabbing at Pribbernow sentencing
By Kelly Dame
A 15-year-old boy charged as an adult after a fatal stabbing during the summer will spend at least that many years of a life sentence in prison before he’ll get a chance at parole.
Steven Jeffrey Pribbernow Jr., who will turn 16 on June 8, appeared in court Thursday afternoon to be sentenced after a February plea to charges of second-degree murder and three counts of assault with the intent to commit murder. Killed in the Aug. 4 attack at Pribbernow’s Geneva Township home was his 17-year-old adoptive brother, Justin Steven Pribbernow. Injured were his adoptive brothers Kody Christopher Pribbernow, 13 1/2 at the time, and Kevin David Pribbernow, 15; and his stepfather, Joshua Saylor, 32.
The surviving teenage victims did not attend the hearing, nor did their stepfather. His voice was heard the courtroom, however, in the form of a recorded message.
“It seems as if it was yesterday,” Joshua Saylor said, adding home doesn’t seem like a safe place to him anymore. “How does someone with all the potential in the world, and who was so loved, do this? ... I can’t speak for everyone Steven, but I don’t hate you.”
Pribbernow has not told investigators what motivated him to plan the killings, which Lauderbach touched on.
“I don’t know what the trigger is that caused this thing,” Lauderbach said to Pribbernow. “My task today is to deal with what happened. You killed your brother ... You described it to us in chilling detail.”
He added that reports reveal Pribbernow’s plan included hiding a knife under his bed and then setting his alarm clock. He also wrote a list of what to do afterward, which including stabbing himself to make it appear that he was not the killer.
“The theme of this sentencing really is loss,” Midland County Prosecutor Mike Carpenter said. He listed the repercussions of Steven Pribbernow’s choice — Justin Pribbernow lost his life and society lost the contributions he would have made; two little girls in the family lost their innocence — hearing the attack in their basement and fearing they’d be next — as well as losing two of their brothers; and the two injured teens will bear the physical and emotional scars of the attack for their lifetimes. Saylor came within one-fourth inch of being killed by a stepson, Carpenter said.
“The biggest loss is Steven’s,” Carpenter said. “He gave up a family that loved him.”
Pribbernow’s adoptive mother, Jessica Saylor, said it all in her first words to him after reading a letter from her daughter.
“We all love you,” she said to him. Pribbernow ducked his head and cried as she spoke. She recalled going for a run with him, talking about his future, not knowing he was planning to attack the family.
“I don’t know you,” she said. “I know the little boy that came to my front porch.”
In her letter, 10-year-old Maysen wrote, “I hope you’re sorry for what you’ve done to my family ... There’s still a part of me that will love you and miss you forever.”
Attorney Scott Isles of Midland, who took over the case from a court-appointed attorney after he was hired by members of Steven’s biological family who are in Iraq, said the plea deal to life in prison with the possibility of parole is appropriate and will give the Department of Corrections a chance to determine if Pribbernow’s actions were a “blip,” or if he is a risk to society.
“I don’t think my client really understands the ramifications that he took someone’s life,” Isles said, adding it also was appropriate that Carpenter grant a request from Joshua Saylor to play a video made for Justin’s funeral.
Pribbernow hung his head at points in the video, which featured photos of Justin at various ages and engaged in activities including swimming, hunting and sports, and a video of his high school graduation.
Isles also told his young client’s short history.
His biological mother left him with his father when he was 3 months old. His father was an alcoholic, so he lived with his grandmother in Genesee County until she became too ill to care for him. By the time he was 7 or 8 years old, officials verified he’d been beaten and abused, and he was placed in foster care.
There, he learned to run from his problems by running away, back to his grandmother’s home. He eventually was moved to Midland County, and was adopted by Jessica Saylor.
The people who know Pribbernow, Isles said, say the attack is out of character for him. Even in a presentence report, “Jessica Saylor says this is not the son I know.”
Before the attack occurred, there had been a change in family dynamics, punishment had been stepped up, and Pribbernow had been told he could not have a girlfriend after running away to her home.
Pribbernow did take advantage of the chance to speak for himself.
“I just want to say that my reason for this is not justifiable ... I was going though stuff. My brother’s gone and nothing will bring him back,” he said, adding he wants to get help.
Carpenter addressed media stories on the case, saying they gave a platform for community members to make allegations against the family that resulted in multiple investigations by the state’s Department of Human Services. In each investigation, the allegations were determined to be unfounded, he said.
Pribbernow will be sent to the Michigan Department of Corrections Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center for intake, and both Carpenter and Isles said young offenders typically are taken to a prison that specifically houses them until age 21.
Eligibility for parole in 15 years does not mean Pribbernow will be freed at that time, both attorneys and the judge pointed out. Pribbernow also is to pay $5,153.90 in restitution.