Boyfriend pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for strangling former Logansport womanSeptember 12, 2007
MUNCIE — Justin D. Suits got the maximum 20 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter Monday for killing the mother of their child with his bare hands just before Christmas.
“This was not premeditated murder,” said Prosecutor Mark McKinney, saying that the facts in the killing of Marva Diana Rhea, Suits’ girlfriend, did not support a murder charge.
McKinney said he was still bothered by the killing, which was pleaded down by prosecutors and defense attorneys from murder, a class A felony, to voluntary manslaughter, a class B felony. The couple’s son, Jackson, was in the next room of the Selma couple’s home when Rhea was killed.
Delaware County Circuit Court 3 Judge Robert Barnet Jr. sentenced the 28-year-old Suits on the lesser charge, giving him the maximum prison time of 20 years.
“Why did it happen?” Barnet asked Suits, who was handcuffed and wearing an orange jail uniform.
Suits responded, “When Marva would lose control, it was a lot more extreme. Our son was put in danger and I reacted wrongly.”
Defense attorney Jack Quirk had portrayed a stormy relationship between the couple, explaining how Suits had attempted suicide after killing Rhea, and how the defendant suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress.
McKinney countered that Suits did not seem to remember that he told his brother and a welfare case worker that Rhea was leaving him with their son.
Given that the plea agreement made a trial unnecessary, “We are never going to get the entire truth,” McKinney said.
There was plenty of emotion from family members who testified in behalf of Rhea and Suits.
Don and Sharon Strasser, who adopted Rhea, wanted Barnet to reject the plea agreement and make Suits stand trial for killing their daughter.
Rhea had been in a children’s home in Logansport, and went from foster home to foster home until the Strassers came into her life.
“She was always stand-offish and did not trust anybody,” Don Strasser said.
His wife said Rhea opened up only when they expressed their unconditional love for her.
Rhea moved to Muncie, attended Ball State University and was a licensed beautician before meeting Suits at a local bar. The couple had split up until Suits learned Rhea was pregnant, and rekindled their relationship.
Sharon Strasser said she hoped that Suits would provide the family life that Rhea never had. They had been planning for Christmas when they were devastated by the news that Rhea had been killed and Suits was the suspect.
“We spent our Christmas planning a funeral,” Strasser said.
Suits’ mother, Sally Suits, said there were many versions of what happened and that she encouraged the couple to seek counseling for their psychological problems.
“It was not about broken records,” said Suits’ mother. “It was about temporarily broken souls.”
Suits’ parents, both teachers at Liberty-Perry schools, along with his brother, Vincent, hugged the defendant and kissed him as he was returned to jail, awaiting prison.
McKinney said the case was the most difficult he had faced, adding it was not easy to accept the plea agreement. Quirk said the evidence pointed to voluntary manslaughter.
“There was a lot of emotion,” he said.
Strasser, Marva Diana Rhea
Services for Marva Diana Rhea Strasser, 26, Selma, will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday in Gundrum Funeral Home
She died at 9:05 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 23, 2006, in her residence.
Born April 19, 1980, in Whittier, Calif., she was the daughter of Don and Sharon Smith Strasser.
Marva attended Knox High School and was a 1998 graduate of Logansport High School. While in high school, she enjoyed being on the swim team and being a cheerleader.
Marva was a self-employed beautician.
She was an avid reader and attended the Farmland Friends Church of Selma.
She enjoyed spending time with her family and friends, especially her son, Jackson.
Surviving are one son, Jackson David Suits, Selma; parents, Don and Sharon Strasser, Logansport; and grandmother, Margaret Flowers, Logansport.
The Revs. Jim Abbott and Chris Sorensen will officiate at the services. Burial will be in Davis Cemetery, Burnettsville.
Friends may call from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in the funeral home.