Father gets life terms for killing sons

MUSKEGON, Mich. -- A 28-year-old man was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison for incincerating his two young sons in a 1,300-degree ladle at the foundry where he worked.

Muskegon County Circuit Judge James Graves sentenced Bartley James Dobben to the mandatory life prison terms without possibility of parole, with the provision that Dobben receive psychiatric care while in prison.


A jury last Tuesday found Dobben guilty but mentally ill on two counts of first-degree murder in the Thanksgiving Day 1987 slayings of his sons, Bartley Joel, 2, and Peter David, 15 months.

Authorities said Dobben will be sent to state Corrections Department's processing center at Southern Michigan Prison in Jackson to determine where he will be placed in the system.

Muskegon County Jail officials said they have had Dobben under a 24-hour suicide watch since his conviction.

'He's sitting, staring at the walls,' said Sgt. Don Mangione. 'Normally, that's all he's done since he's been here.'

Mangione said Dobben has eaten meals regularly but neither reads nor talks to anyone. He has had no visitors.

Defense lawyers contended during a three-week trial that Dobben was legally insane when he put his sons inside a transfer ladle used to move molten metal at Cannon-Muskegon Corp. in Norton Shores.


Dobben, his pregnant wife, Susan, and the boys were en route to a Thanksgiving Day dinner with relatives when he stopped at the foundry, which was closed for the holiday, purportedly to show his sons where he worked and to retrieve a Bible from his locker.

Security guards at the plant said Dobben walked out of the plant about 10 minutes after entering, telling them he had put the children into one of the plant's huge ladles and turned on the gas jets.

Susan Dobben was left outside in the car, unaware of what was transpiring inside the plant, police said.

Authorities said the ladle quickly reached some 1,300 degrees, asphyixiating the children in minutes.

Dobben, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, had been under a court order to take psychotropic drugs to control his condition but ceased taking the medication after becoming involved with a religious leader several months before the slayings, his wife testified.

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