In a hushed Apalachicola courtroom Monday afternoon, a grieving father relived the pain of his young son’s murder, and then watched as the boy’s grandmother was sent to state prison for what will likely be the rest of her life.
Without comment beyond the detailed legal questioning, Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey sentenced 73-year-old Marianne Bordt, from Nufringen, Germany, to 21 years and six months for drowning her American-born grandson Camden Hiers, 5, in the bathtub of a St. George Island rental home on Jan. 4. 2010.
Bordt said nothing other than the necessary yeses and noes as she stood for sentencing, flanked by her public defender, Andy Thomas, and translator Michael Alsentzer. Just prior to that, throughout a slide show prepared by the boy’s father, Dave Hiers, to accompany his victim impact statement, she sat stiffly in her chair, following intently, without emotion, as heartbreaking images unfolded of the vibrant child whose brief life she ended violently.
Over the last two-and-a-half years, prosecutors sought the death penalty for Bordt on a charge of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. Thomas had laid the groundwork for an insanity defense that would have argued Bordt suffered dementia and depression from a skull fracture she sustained as a 5-year-old, when the Russians bombed her childhood home of Breslau in Oct. 1944.
After the first trial date last July was scrapped, the trial was re-set for next month, but last week State Attorney Willie Meggs and Assistant State Attorney Robin Myers, who prosecuted the case, agreed to a plea deal with Public Defender Nancy Daniels. To fit the agreed-upon years, which will mean Bordt will likely be at least 90 before she could be released, the first-degree murder charge was reduced to second degree and the child abuse charge dropped.
Hiers, who has long said he and his family were not intent on seeing Bordt put to death, objected to Monday’s plea deal, preferring a 30-year-sentence. In his victim’s impact statement, he said as much.
“If she is guilty of this crime, then I want her to not be able to enjoy life - the same life she took from him - albeit a terribly unfair trade as she has mostly lived her life,” he told the court. “If she is proven guilty, I want her to be punished as no person has ever been punished – and to be able to fully realize the extent and harm of her horrible crimes.”
Myers said in an interview following the hearing that the plea deal satisfied the prosecution’s primary objective, to make sure Bordt spent the rest of her life in prison.
“I understand his frustration,” said Myers. “To us the outcome was more important than the actual number. While it’s theoretically possible, we don’t believe she will ever leave the Department of Corrections.”
Myers said prosecutors were confident of winning the case, but knew if they were to lose and Bordt found not guilty by reason of insanity, officials at Florida State Hospital would have custody of Bordt, and could eventually petition to have her step down to a halfway house and ultimately be released.
Bordt was held in the state hospital in Chattahoochee beginning in Dec. 2010, in order to have her restored to competency, which was done over the course of the next year.
“Once she was found incompetent, no plea was allowed,” said Myers. “That was the frustrating part for me (after that). There was never discussions involving a plea. We were always given the impression the defendant was not willing to accept anything involving a lengthy prison term.”
Myers also noted that while the boy’s age, his relationship with the defendant and the fact the crime was “heinous, atrocious and cruel” all weighed in favor of death, Bordt’s age, prior psychological condition, lack of a criminal record, and consideration of proportionality, that “the punishment fit the crime,” all worked against her ever being executed.
“Even if we had secured it, there’s a chance they could have commuted the sentence to life,” he said. “There’s a good chance they would have done that.”
Myers said that as a father of four, including two 14-month-old twins, his heart went out to Dave Hiers, who he worked with closely over the past two-and-a-half years. “As a father I can’t even begin to imagine how he must feel,” said Myers. “There’s nothing I can do to fill the void in his life.”
In her sentencing, Dempsey granted Bordt credit for 995 days served, some served in the Leon County Jail, but most spent in the state hospital, from which she now will be taken to go to the female penal institution in Lowell. She was also ordered to pay $770 in fines and costs, and the judge specified that she be maintained on her current medication regimen.
Bordt’s admission of guilt, and the stipulation that Myers read as to the factual basis for the plea, will likely have an effect on an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit that Dave Hiers is pursuing in federal court. The plaintiff contends Marianne Bordt was culpable and her husband, Heinz, negligent during their weeklong vacation on St. George Island.
“There’s no amount of money that can make me settle this case early,” said Dave Hiers after Monday’s hearing. “We are going to have a court case, and believe me, we’re going to find the truth.”
‘I have lost my bearings and feel adrift’
Hiers, an Atlanta-area software engineer who met his wife, Karin, while working for several years in Germany, read a carefully prepared statement, divided into sections that covered his initial reaction, coping with the grief and feelings towards Bordt.
While Hiers and his parents, Bill and Pat Hiers, from Sharpsburg, Ga. have rarely missed a hearing, Karin Hiers has not participated in the case, and now lives in the Atlanta area, remarried, with a new daughter. The couple divorced when Camden Hiers was just 18 months old, and the parents shared custody of their son.
His voice choked with tears, Dave Hiers told of receiving the 8 p.m. cellphone call from Franklin County Lt. Ronnie Segree, in which he was told what happened.
“I remember weeping uncontrollably, trying to maintain the explosion happening in my mind, heart, and soul,” said Hiers. “It was a deep physical pain and emptiness that has not yet left me since that moment.”
He recounted the joys of raising his only son in words that no doubt were made possible by the help he said he has received by taking part in Compassionate Friend meetings. “I have found the occasional lost toy part between the car seat, or under a table, or behind the bed that always makes me lose it for awhile,” said Dave Hiers. “One day, I found a sticker sheet (missing all the tiny stickers of course) that he got once with a race car in a Happy Meal at McDonalds. I remembered how he kept test aligning each of the tiny stickers meticulously until it was perfectly placed on the car. I was so proud of his attention to tiny details and need for alignment. I miss him so much every day, but these unexpected reminders are both wonderful and incredibly sad at the same time.”
Heinz Bordt, who was flown in from Germany for the grand jury proceedings and would have been a witness at trial, told deputies the night of the drowning that after returning from an errand in Apalachicola, he found his grandson dead and his wife soaking wet from trying to drown herself in the Gulf. It was then that she told him she had killed the boy because didn’t want him growing up in a broken home.
Dave Hiers addressed that alleged statement in his remarks.
“This ‘excuse’ makes no sense to me at all - or to anyone I know,” he said. “Camden was an energetic, happy, smart, curious, artistic, affectionate, sensitive 5-year old boy. He was just starting sports and loved playing outdoors, riding his bike, loved animals, and loved other people. He loved music and movies. His pre-K teachers told me, in fact, that some of the other children envied Camden as he bragged about having two houses, two sets of cars, two sets of toys, two sets of everything.
“He told me all the time that he loved me. He also told me many times that he loved his mommy,” Dave Hiers said. “He was afraid of the dark and ‘monsters under the bed.’ like any child his age. I told Camden that monsters were not real… but I was wrong. Camden did need saving from a real-life monster that took his precious life from us.”
At what point, Dave Hiers asked of the judge questions that if courtroom rules allowed, he would have addressed to the Marianne Bordt.
“I want to know why! I would ask her what possibly changed from the times I have seen her doting over him - with such extreme concern for his well-being and safety,” he said. “I would remind her of the times she would wrap Camden in a jacket and then a coat when I would pick him up on a cold day – so wrapped that he could almost not sit in his child seat. How she would call him with such fondness ‘Camdeline.’
“How could she end the life of another human being that she cared for and accepted responsibility of? How could she bring such pain, destruction and disgrace to herself, her family, and all around her?” the father asked. “How can you go from that place - to a place of wanting them to be tortured and killed?”
Dave Hiers closed by telling the court he is trying to rebuild his life.
“I had so much hope for the upcoming years with Camden here. I had so much hope and anticipation about the future - to watch him go through all the stages of childhood, teen-ager, and then finally adulthood,” he said. “Now, I have lost my bearings and feel adrift and lost in the world. Every day I get up and place one foot in front of the other, and take one day at a time. It’s all I can do.”