Man resentenced for 'horrendous' 1995 Grand Rapids murder committed as a teen

The new sentence comes after the U.S. Supreme Court said mandatory life terms for juvenile killers is unconstitutional.

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A man who was 16 when he participated in a 1995 abduction and murder in Grand Rapids was re-sentenced Wednesday to a minimum of 40 years in prison for what the judge called a “horrendous’’ crime.

“The facts and circumstances of the crime were horrendous,’’ Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan told Juan Cantu, now 37. “You certainly were old enough, regardless of the background, to know how bad this was.’’

Instead of mandatory life, teen killers now face a minimum sentence of between 25 and 40 years and a maximum term of not less than 60 years.

It follows a 2012 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that mandatory life terms for juveniles is unconstitutional.

Cantu and Paul Marcus Carter were both 16 when they abducted 35-year-old Daniel VanTatenhove, drove him to Montcalm County, marched him into the woods and shot him four times.  A second man was also abducted with VanTatenhove.

Arthur Zima was ordered out of the car, marched into the woods  and forced to undress. Carter attempted to shoot him, but missed.  

Because of a lack of ammunition or because the gun jammed, Carter was unable to fire another round, Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth said.

The victims were driven back to Grand Rapids. VanTatenhove was still alive and could be heard banging in the trunk of a Chevy Caviler. Back in Grand Rapids, Zima was able to escape. Police found VanTatenhove’s body inside the car on Francis Avenue SE near Garfield Park.

Forsyth is seeking a no-parole sentence for Carter because he carried out the shooting. That case is pending.

Forsyth said a lengthy sentence for Cantu is warranted based on the nature of the crime, his apparent lack of remorse and numerous misconduct tickets while in prison.

Cantu’s attorney says her client is remorseful, noting that the slaying “haunts him every day.’’ Cantu also apologized for his behavior.

The judge wasn’t convinced.

“I think if people had just been picked up and shot and killed right on the spot, it would be far less serious than what this ended up being for these victims,’’ the judge said.

Given the circumstances, a minimum sentence of 25 years “does not sit particularly well with me,’’ Sullivan said.

Wednesday’s hearing was just on the mandatory life term for murder. It has no bearing on the 50 to 80-year sentence Cantu got for kidnapping and a life term for attempted murder, for which he can be considered for parole.

Even with the mandatory life sentence shortened to between 40 and 60 years, it will be decades before Cantu can be considered for parole.

Cantu is one of nine juvenile “lifers’’ in Kent County who will be eligible for parole in murders committed as teens. Six of the nine have already been re-sentenced.

Forsyth is seeking no-parole sentences for 13 other juvenile lifers. Hearings on those cases are on hold pending a decision by the Michigan Supreme Court on whether a judge or a jury should impose a sentence of life without parole.

(© 2016 WZZM)


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