COLUMBUS, Kan. — Ty Bohlander, 23, was sentenced Tuesday to serve 59 months in the Kansas Department of Corrections and 36 months of post-release supervision for the 2017 death of James A. McFarland, 64, of Tulsa.
Chief Judge Oliver Kent Lynch assessed the prison term at a hearing in Cherokee County District Court. Bohlander must also register as a violent offender for 15 years upon his release from prison.
Bohlander and his mother, Diana Bohlander, 58, pleaded guilty in July as part of an agreement to one count of voluntary manslaughter in the killing of McFarland, whose body was found April 30, 2017, along a road in southeast Cherokee County. The two were initially facing charges of first-degree murder, but the charges were changed because of a lack of evidence, law enforcement officials said.
The Bohlanders and McFarland were known to be hanging out together in the weeks preceding McFarland’s death. The three were homeless and living out of a van, according to Cherokee County Sheriff David Groves. Officials believe Diana Bohlander was romantically involved with McFarland. Authorities have said the trio's only connection to the Cherokee County was the location of the victim's body.
Diana Bohlander, who was also scheduled to appear at the hearing, was not present because her attorney was ill. Her sentencing hearing was tentatively rescheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10.
Before the judge’s sentencing, Ty Bohlander said in a public statement that McFarland was “a good friend and respectful man.” In remarks to the judge, he said knowing that he killed a good friend is going to be harder than 59 months of prison time and that he’s going to have to live with it for the rest of his life.
“As far as how he died, it was an accident,” Ty Bohlander told the judge before the sentencing. “We were watching a movie and drinking the night he died. We got in an argument and I must’ve blacked out. When I came to, my friend was on the floor and wasn’t breathing. As far as prison time, it’s going to be hard. But it’s what I deserve.
“I don’t expect the family to forgive me, and I won’t forgive myself,” he added. “Words cannot describe how sorry I truly am.”
Both the victim’s wife, Janet McFarland, and sister, Janet L. Galbreath, listened to the ruling after giving testimony in an attempt to sway the judge to give a heavier sentence. With tears in her eyes, Galbreath told the judge that her younger brother was an honorable man who had served in the military for more than two decades and that he didn’t deserve to die the way that he did.
“Don’t let Kansas be known as a state (where) you can commit the crime of murder and get a light sentence,” she said.
Galbreath said the last time she talked to her brother was in 1981 when he was on leave from the Navy, and she didn’t think anything about his estrangement from the family because he was in the military. She was shocked to find out that her brother was dead after searching his name online in July 2017.
Galbreath said she discovered her brother had a wife who had left a comment about how her husband was killed and how she needed to find his family. She reached out to the wife via Facebook, and the two have been in contact ever since, looking for answers.
“The last two years have been an emotional roller coaster,” Galbreath said. “... Janet loved him and still does. Her pain is my pain. I can hear her grief through our conversations.”
Janet McFarland spoke to the judge about her relationship with her husband and how she went into debt in order to return his body back to Oklahoma for cremation. With a limited income, she gave her husband a proper military funeral with a 21-gun salute.
“Since we had no insurance and the VA would only help when I got him home, I had to get an overdraft at my bank and a loan from World of Finance, as well as a personal loan of $450 from my landlord for living expenses,” she said. “All of this, except the landlord, came with fees and interest rates I could hardly afford but couldn’t afford not to do. I had to bring him home.”
Janet McFarland said she should have been consulted before Bohlander's plea agreement, which she described as “a slap on the wrist.”
“I know the Bible tells us to forgive, but I have no forgiveness in my heart,” she said. “I can never forgive them for taking my husband from me.”
Once finished with her public testimony, Janet McFarland turned to look Ty Bohlander in the eye and ask him why he killed her husband. She then called him “a sorry son of a b----” before walking back to her seat. In an interview with the Globe after the sentencing, both Janet McFarland and Janet Galbreath said they don’t believe justice was served and that a sentence of less than five years is not enough for the crime.
Ty Bohlander’s older sister, Heather, also was present for the hearing. She told the Globe that she feels empathy for the victim’s family but that her family is heartbroken too.
“I want everyone to know that my brother is not a monster,” she said after the hearing. “I know that this has been made out that he viciously attacked and hurt this man, and that’s not what happened. My brother was involved with him for five years and loved that man dearly. This was a horrific accident that has happened to so many people before and can honestly happen to anybody.”
Jake Conard, the Cherokee County prosecutor, said in an interview that this was a difficult case and that there was little evidence at the scene. Law enforcement officials worked on the case for two years and located Ty and Diana Bohlander hiding out in California earlier this year.
"We work with the evidence that we can get, and the evidence that we had I felt was sufficient to get the conviction that we got," he said. "I feel like seeking a conviction greater than voluntary manslaughter would've ran a very high risk of not getting any justice. I'm not necessarily happy with it, but based on the evidence that we have and how we think things had played out litigating it, I think it was appropriate."
In a previous Globe interview, Conard said that McFarland's cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and that Ty Bohlander had intentionally killed a human being upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion rather than premeditated murder.
"All of the statements that we have and the evidence that we have, it was barehanded," Conard said Tuesday. "Forensically, I don't believe they said it was with any type of object. His statements were that he was the one who participated in that and is directly responsible for the death. Diana Bohlander's guilt is more so of an accomplice capacity, during and then after and evading in flight. It's anticipated that she'll get the same sentence."