WARSAW — An Illinois man was sentenced to 55 years in prison on Monday, Dec. 23, after killing his cousin in 2017.
Derrick Lavelle Wandrick, 26, Harvey, Ill., was charged with felony murder. Wandrick had been facing a four-day jury trial in January 2020, but that was canceled after a guilty plea was entered in November.
On Oct. 23, 2017, officers with the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office found David L. Strowder Jr., 21, Elkhart, lying facedown near CR 300N. Strowder was bleeding from multiple stab wounds and unconscious.
Strowder was taken to Kosciusko Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Autopsy results showed Strowder had 63 stab wounds, and the death was ruled a homicide.
While investigating the crime scene, officers found a shoe print that did not match Strowder’s. With the assistance of Elkhart City detectives, officers received tips regarding Wandrick.
During an interview, Wandrick said he was in Warsaw on Oct. 23 in Strowder’s vehicle. Wandrick told officers he had driven Strowder’s vehicle back to Elkhart. While interviewing Wandrick, officers compared his shoes to the shoe print found at the scene of the crime. Wandrick’s shoes and the shoe print were of similar design. Officers also discovered Wandrick was in possession of Strowder’s cellphone.
After Strowder’s vehicle was found in Elkhart, officers noticed a cut on the passenger side seat, as well as blood on the center console.
It was later discovered that Wandrick was at a Warsaw residence between 7:45 and 8 p.m. on Oct. 23, 2017, driving Strowder’s vehicle. Witnesses saw Wandrick attempting to clean blood from inside the vehicle with bleach water. Officers also discovered a location where soil had been disturbed with a shoe print. Under the shoe print, officers found a knife believed to be the murder weapon.
Defense Attorney Jay Rigdon called Wandrick’s mother, Shirley Davis, to the stand for testimony and asked her to describe what Wandrick was like as a child.
“He was a very well-behaved kid and he played football,” said Davis. “He had no disciplinary issues with his football coach. He was very quiet, but always had a heart of gold.”
Davis said things changed when Wandrick got a job and that he told her “people were out to get him.” When he told her he wanted to go to Elkhart, Davis attempted to convince him not to go due to violence she was aware of in the area.
“This is not my son,” said Davis. “I think he got a hold of some drugs or something. They’re cousins, but they were brought up like brothers.”
After Davis delivered her testimony, Kosciusko County Prosecutor Dan Hampton elaborated on the number of stab wounds Strowder received, including eight stab wounds to his chest and 10 to the right side of his neck.
“He was only 21 years old,” said Hampton. “Derrick had a girlfriend here in Kosciusko County and so they were down here to visit. That’s how the violence came down to Kosciusko County. That night was a level of violence that was horrific. The gravity of the act itself outweighs all of the mitigating circumstances. David Strowder’s family asks that you put this nightmare to rest. When incidents like this come into our area, we have to hold people accountable. And in David’s memory, we will do that.”
Rigdon said there are several mitigating circumstances involved with this case, including that Wandrick has no criminal record and has a child he has responsibility for.
“Why he did it remains a mystery,” said Rigdon. “He has no memory of it. The mystery will always continue. Mr. Wandrick would like to continue to work to get these issues resolved.”
When asked by Kosciusko County Circuit Court Judge Michael Reed if he would like to offer a statement, Wandrick declined to do so.
One of Strowder’s family members immediately asked aloud in court, “Say something? Why?”
Wandrick did not provide an answer to the question.
“The first offense sometimes speaks for itself,” said Reed. “The only person who would know what happened apparently can’t remember. I could speculate on drugs being involved or mental illness, but I can’t. There’s no evidence to show that. But I never heard any remorse from you.”
Reed sentenced Wandrick to 55 years in prison, with 789 days of jail time credit.
The family of Strowder also requested $2,567 in restitution for funeral expenses.