Judge expresses optimism for future of Beaver Dam man in armed robbery case
A judge withheld sentencing Tuesday for a Beaver Dam man who said he has learned a serious life lesson and intends to make good choices after getting into legal trouble over a drug deal gone wrong.
Payton C. Apel, 18, appeared in Columbia County Circuit Court with attorney William Henry Gergen and pleaded no contest to a single count of being party to a crime of armed robbery.
Apel, his attorney and the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office reached a 12-month deferred prosecution agreement as part of the plea deal. Formal charges will be dropped if he successfully completes probation.
Assistant District Attorney Sheila Smith said she reviewed school records including grade transcripts and letters from teachers, guidance counselors and employers attesting to Apel’s character.
The prosecutor said all signs indicate Apel is a reliable and hardworking young man who has improved his grades, is involved in various academic programs and is set to graduate from high school June 2.
“I think that speaks well to this young man,” Smith said. “Payton has really gotten a wake-up call and taken adult life seriously.”
The case stems from a March 31, 2018, incident in which three teens allegedly drove to Columbus to buy marijuana from an 18-year-old Columbus man. Investigators said the teens threatened the prospective seller with handguns.
Apel and Andrew Beske, 18, also of Beaver Dam, were arrested and charged with armed robbery, and a 16-year-old boy was taken into juvenile detention.
A separate court case for Beske remains open after he pleaded no contest to multiple charges including armed robbery. A judge on Feb. 4 withheld sentencing but ordered Beske to pay fines and volunteer for 100 hours of community service.
Gergen said in court Tuesday that although Beske made contradicting statements to police, Apel did not know about the guns ahead of time and merely thought he was driving the other teens to buy marijuana.
Gergen said his client has taken positive strides to learn from his mistake.
Asked whether he wished to make a statement, Apel told Judge Todd Hepler that he has learned from a bad decision and is committed to making good life choices.
“I was hanging out with the wrong crowd, doing things I know I shouldn’t have. I just want to live a normal, happy life that God has planned for me,” Apel said.
Hepler commended Apel for acknowledging his actions, reminding him that anytime someone displays a weapon during a drug deal, the situation could end fatally.
But Hepler said he believes Apel was less culpable than the other two teens involved in the incident. He added statements from family and various community members paint a hopeful picture for Apel’s future.
“Good luck, and keep up with the positive road you’re traveling down now,” Hepler told Apel.