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December 10, 2012

Bashara sentenced to up to 20 years in prison

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

For attempting to hire someone to kill Joseph Gentz, Robert Bashara, 54, of Grosse Pointe Park, can expect to spend roughly the next six to 20 years behind bars.

For pleading guilty to a charge of solicitation to commit murder, 3rd Circuit Court Judge Bruce U. Morrow ruled Dec. 10 that Bashara should spend the next 80-240 months in a state prison. Bashara will receive credit for the 168 days he’s already spent in the Wayne County Jail.

In June, the property manager/businessman was charged with solicitation of murder for hiring someone to kill Gentz, 48, the Grosse Pointe Park handyman who reportedly told police he killed Bashara’s wife, Jane Bashara, at her husband’s behest last January. Bashara has denied any involvement in his wife’s killing and had not been charged in connection with it as of press time. Gentz is slated to face a jury trial next month on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

The sentence left Bashara visibly shaken as he dropped his head into his hands at one point and quietly repeated, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.”

Bashara’s attorney, Mark Kriger, had been seeking less prison time, citing his client’s charitable work in the community, among other considerations. Kriger said Bashara’s volunteer work for organizations like the Rotary included the 3 million challenge, during which Bashara led a collection of 1 million pounds of food, 1 million pounds of clothing and 1 million pounds of books for the less fortunate.

“By any measure, this man has touched a lot of lives in the community. … There’s no question that what he did is extremely serious and extremely bad,” Kriger said. “But does what he did in his life count for nothing?”

Bashara’s decision to plead guilty, rather than going to trial, should also weigh in his favor, Kriger said.

“He could have gone to trial and he would have faced the same sentencing guidelines,” Kriger said. “He pled straight up to the crime. … He came to the decision that that was the right thing to do.”

Kriger asked the judge to consider a sentence of 63-95 months for Bashara — a year over the initial minimum sentence that had been under consideration.

But Robert Moran, one of the attorneys from the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, said Bashara should instead serve at least 85 months to life in prison.

“The defendant lacks remorse for his behavior,” Moran said. “He has not accepted personal responsibility for his conduct.”

Facing the man who tried to have him killed for the first time in months, a skittish-looking Gentz spent much of his time in the courtroom with his head low and his gaze fixed on the floor, occasionally conferring with one of the two attorneys flanking him.

Gentz declined to speak, but his attorney, Susan Reed, read a victim impact statement from him on his behalf.

“‘I have been telling the truth from the beginning,’” she read. “‘Bob has used me and threatened me. He told me he had friends in the Mafia and would have me killed. Bob tried to make me look bad so no one would believe me. I was afraid for my life, because he said he could get to me anywhere, even in jail. I went to the police. No one believed me. I am still in fear. I don’t feel safe anywhere.’”

The decision was a validation, of sorts, for Gentz.

“He’s been telling people all along, ‘Mr. Bashara threatened me,’” Reed said outside of the courtroom after the proceedings.

She said it was hard “as a defense attorney … to comment on whether a sentence is fair,” but seemed to be satisfied with the decision.

“We wanted (Bashara) to get the maximum sentence,” Reed said.

Bashara does still have his supporters — a small group that included his mother and aunt were in the courtroom for the sentencing — but prosecutors and Bashara himself said the defendant has lost much of the backing he once had.

Stopping periodically to wipe away tears, Bashara addressed the crime before the sentencing decision was rendered.

“I absolutely did wrong, and what I did was inexcusable and I have no one to blame but myself, and I understand fully that what I did was a crime and something I will regret for the rest of my life,” he said. “Pleading guilty was what I had to do.”

Bashara apologized to Gentz, the court, his family and his friends, many of whom have since cut ties with him.

“I made a promise to my grandfather that I would be there for my mother in her senior years,” said Bashara, just a few feet from his mother. “I ask that you offer me some leniency in my sentence.”

Moran was among those who weren’t moved by Bashara’s emotional appeal. He asked the judge to sentence Bashara on the high end of the guidelines, arguing that the crime he committed “is more serious than armed robbery, more serious than breaking and entering.”

In paperwork filed by the prosecutors before the sentencing, they said his actions were “premeditated and deliberate.”

“The evidence clearly shows that defendant Bashara was hell-bent on thwarting the investigation into his role in the cold-blooded murder of his wife, Jane Bashara,” the prosecutors’ sentencing memorandum read, in part. “The defendant’s ultimate goal was to silence Joseph Gentz in an effort not to avenge the murder of his wife, but to prevent Gentz from any future testimony against defendant Bashara.”

But Kriger disagreed with the picture prosecutors painted of Bashara.

“I do believe he’s remorseful,” Kriger said.

When asked if he was disappointed about the judge’s decision, Kriger said no, noting that the prosecutors had, at one point, been asking for a sentence of about 135 months.

“He’s holding up as well as one can expect. … He knew this day was coming,” Kriger said of his client after court.

Morrow said Bashara has the right to appeal his sentence.

As to where Bashara might be serving his time, that hadn’t been decided at press time.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.