Twenty-year-old Bryan Christopher Sturm, of Lower Salem, has never met his nieces and nephews. He has never learned to drive a car. He didn't attend a typical high school class with a mascot and sports teams.
That is because Sturm, who was convicted in 2005 of the murders of his aunt and grandmother, has spent more than a third of his life in Ohio Juvenile Correctional facilities.
"They have some sports, like basketball and softball, but not a whole lot of things because of safety issues in here," said Sturm, who goes by Chris, on the phone from Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facilities Friday.
Photo courtesy of Tammy Sturm
Shown here is the high school graduation photo of Bryan Christopher Sturm, who graduated from the Indian River High School at the Indian River Juvenile Correction Facility in Massillon.
Sturm said he tries not to think too much about the November 2004 day when his family members were shot. He and his mother, Tammy Sturm, 43, still maintain that Chris in innocent.
"Up until this happened, I had all the faith in the world in our justice system, but not anymore," said Tammy, who is still pursuing multiple appeals. She is also fighting for her son to have more access to outside programs she thinks will benefit him leading up to his release.
Emma Tidd, 40, and Nancy Tidd, 61, were found dead in their Lower Salem home. The gun used to commit the murders belonged to Nancy's long-time live-in boyfriend, John Francis Russell. But it was 12-year-old Chris, already considered a troubled youth, on which the Washington County Sheriff's Office quickly focused its investigation.
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The Sturm Case
Nov. 22, 2004: Emma Tidd, 40, and Nancy Tidd, 61, are shot and killed. Twelve-year-old Bryan C. Sturm, Emma's nephew and Nancy's grandson, confesses to officers and is charged with two counts of murder. An additional, but unrelated charge of gross sexual imposition is filed against the boy for an October 2004 incident involving a 15-year-old girl.
Dec. 16, 2004: Sturm pleads not guilty to the charge of gross sexual imposition.
Dec. 22, 2004: Sturm pleads not guilty to murder charges.
Feb. 19, 2005: A jury finds Sturm guilty on two counts of murder.
April 27, 2005: Washington County Juvenile Judge Timothy Williams finds Sturm guilty of the gross sexual imposition charge.
April 29, 2005: Williams sentences Sturm to stay in a juvenile detention center until the age of 21. He also sentenced him to two adult sentences of 15 years to life for each of the two murders and added an additional five years for gun specifications, making Sturm the youngest child in Ohio to be given an adult sentence. The adult sentences were suspended, meaning Sturm could be released from custody on his 21st birthday if he is charged with no further acts of violence while in detention.
December 2006: An Ohio appellate court upholds the conviction and sentencing.
March 2012: An appeal in federal court is filed.
Chris confessed to both murders to detectives that night, describing the crime scene in detail and saying he killed the women because his grandmother had always put him down and because his aunt got in the way.
When he was sentenced in 2005, Washington County Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Williams ordered a juvenile sentence that would expire on Chris' 21st birthday, which will be in April. Williams also added an adult sentence to Sturm's juvenile sentence which could range from 35 years to life in adult prison. However, the adult sentence was suspended and will only be imposed if Sturm commits a violent offense while in youth detention.
That would be highly unlikely according to Tammy Sturm, who says Chris has been a model citizen while in custody.
"He hasn't had so much as a write-up in over four years. He is a mentor in one of the mental health units. He works with troubled kids," said Tammy of her son's accomplishments.
Additionally Chris was valedictorian of his Indian Rivers High School class, which consisted of more than 20 boys. Chris also volunteered at a soup kitchen, the Humane Society and True North Ministry, a camp for troubled youth, until the facilities' rules changed in August and Chris was no longer to leave the grounds without Williams' signature.
Of his off site volunteer work, Chris said, "It played a really big role in helping me just get acclimated back in. But even being in here, there are things I can do that will help me out."
Specifically, Chris will soon be a teacher's aid for the Outside In program. The program is a college class offered to students from The College of Wooster and juveniles serving time in Indian Rivers inside the facilities.
While the programs inside the facility help, Tammy said she believes the off grounds programs were essential for readying Chris for life after detention.
Off ground activities are not uncommon in youth detention facilities.
According to Eileen Corson, public information officer for the Ohio Department of Youth Services, students can go off ground for "community service activities, educational/career field trips or programs, employment, visits to terminally ill family members, funerals, placement interviews, to obtain state ID prior to release, field trips (movie, restaurant, sporting event, etc.), and field day events at another facility."
Taking online college classes through Stark State College, Chris made the Dean's List last quarter.
But to continue his online studies next quarter, he needs to take a placement test on campus. However, until just this week, Williams had been refusing to sign off on the college visit, said Tammy Sturm.
"I can kind of understand in a way," she said. "If the judge puts his signature on a paper saying he can leave the facility and something happens, it looks bad on him. At the same time, they need to look at the kid's behavior."
Until August, that is exactly what the Department of Youth Services did, said DYS public information officer Kim Parsell.
"There are a whole variety of factors that go into that process," said Parsell.
Those factors include the person's crime and his behavior in the facility. Requiring a judge's signature has long been a part of the process, but was not made consistent until August. It is rare, if not unheard of, for DYS to override a judge's decision in the matter of going off ground, she added.
Williams declined to comment for this story. However, this week he signed a release for the testing, said Tammy Sturm.
For Tammy, it is one hurdle crossed, with what she says are a million more to go. Now that Chris is nearing his release date, Tammy Sturm said she worries that all the red tape is going to be detrimental to acclimating Chris to society.
It has also been a battle for Chris to see friends and relatives, she said.
"I've been talking to his counselor about how to get him help to move into life after release, and one of the things was to kind of try to get the know the people that he has not been able to see," said Sturm.
Immediate family members are allowed to visit Chris. However, now that Tammy is trying to set up visits with the nieces and nephews Chris has never met, she is hitting more road blocks.
"It is frustrating. It seems like I get one thing fixed and something else goes downhill," she said.
Though not nervous about the possibility of release, Chris admits that he will be entering an unknown world.
His mother said she worries that feeling the harsh judgments of the outside world will have an effect on Chris.
"People can be pretty cruel. So far he has not had to face it from the outside. But his brothers and sisters really had a tough time of it. So did I," said Tammy of the community backlash following Chris' conviction.
"I don't really worry about public opinion because my actions will speak for myself," added Chris.
Washington County Sheriff Larry Minks said his department takes it very seriously when a convicted criminal is released back into the public.
"Our department is very concerned about anyone who has committed a murder being back on the streets. We want to take whatever precautions are necessary to make sure the community is safe," he said.
For now, Chris' plan does not include moving back to the area that remembers him as an infamous 12-year-old. He has already set the ball in motion to enroll at Malone College in Canton to study zoology.
As to what he most looks forward to after his release, it's "just spending time with my family. Just being there for them," said Chris.
In addition, Chris and his family will continue the appeals process even after his release from DYS, they said. Currently an appeal is pending in federal court that would allow the Sturms a re-trial.
"I am going to keep fighting until I can clear my name," said Chris.