Prosecutor's Press Releases 2016
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The following are from Prosecuting Attorney, Michael J. Sepic:
April 13, 2017
Former superintendent charged with misappropriation of school district funds
Berrien County Prosecutor, Michael Sepic, announced today that former Benton Harbor Area Schools superintendent, Dr. Leonard Seawood, has been charged with criminal counts related to his alleged misappropriation of school district funds. Seawood, 56, of Benton Harbor, was superintendent of schools from July of 2010 to October of 2015.
The charges relate to Seawood’s contract which permitted a cash payout for a maximum of 5 unused vacation days each year. The contract allotted 25 vacation days to Seawood per year. It is alleged Seawood caused to be issued a cash payout for more than the allowed 5 days as follows: in 2012, 45 extra days; in 2013, 16 extra days; in 2014, 9 extra days; and in 2015, 5 extra days. Extra day cash payouts, over and above the 5 days allowed amounted to approximately $45,000.00.
Seawood is charged with 1 count of Embezzlement $20,000 to $50,000, a 10 year felony and an alternative count of Obtaining Money by False Pretenses $20,000 to $50,000, a 15 year felony. The charges cover the time period of June 2012 to April 2015.
On May 1, 2015, the Benton Harbor Area Schools Board of Education requested an investigation concerning the activities of Dr. Seawood be conducted by Rehmann Corporate Investigative Services. As a result of that investigation, which noted numerous areas of concern, the Michigan State Police began an investigation that resulted in the above mentioned charges.
Seawood was suspended by the BHAS Board of Education April 30, 2015 and he resigned pursuant to a termination agreement accepted by the Board on October 13, 2015.
At his arraignment today, bond was set at $10,000.00, 10% and was posted immediately. His pre-exam conference and preliminary exam hearing are scheduled for April 21, 2017 and April 27, 2017 respectively, both at 8:30 am in the Berrien County Trial Court in St. Joseph, Michigan.
The charges are accusations at this time and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
April 1, 2017
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Event
The Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office announced today that the Berrien County community is invited to attend a free National Crime Victims’ Rights Week event on Thursday, April 6, from 5:30-6:15 p.m., on the front lawn of the Berrien County Courthouse (on the west side courthouse), located at 811 Port Street in St. Joseph. Hosted by the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office, in coordination with Safe Shelter, South West Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, The Children’s Assessment Center of Berrien County, and the Berrien County Sherriff’s Department-Victim Services Unit, the event will promote awareness of crime victims’ rights and the community services offered to assist victims as they seek justice and healing while walking through the justice system’s process.
Prosecuting Attorney, Michael Sepic, will dedicate a plaque in recognition of crime victims in Berrien County. The plaque will be placed in a newly planted flower garden surrounding an existing tree on the courthouse front lawn, designated especially for this event. Participants in attendance will hear experiences shared by crime victims as well as positive stories of victims told by speakers from the coordinating agencies of this event.
For more information or questions regarding the event, please contact Carolyn Groen, Program Coordinator of Victim/Witness Services at the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office at 269-983-7111, ext. 8311 or email email@example.com.
February 21, 2017
Two charged in attack on Michigan State Police Trooper
Two men were arraigned in the Berrien County Trial Court today for a roadside attack on a Michigan State Police Trooper Monday morning around 9:00 am on the US-31 Bypass in Berrien County. The details of that incident are the subject of a Michigan State Police press release from Monday and attached below.
The two are Michael Scott Barber, 21 of Gobles, Michigan and Travis Tyler Wise, 19 of Middlebury, Indiana. They are charged with the following criminal offenses:
Michael Barber (driver of the motorcycle):
- Assault Strangulation, a ten year felony;
- Flee & Elude 3rd Degree, a five year felony;
- Resisting and Obstruction a Police Officer Causing Injury, a four year felony;
- Receiving and Concealing a Stolen Motor Vehicle, a five year felony; and
- Attempt Disarming a Police Officer, (a taser), a two year felony.
- Assault Strangulation, a ten year felony;
- Obstruction of Justice, a five year felony;
- Resisting and Obstruction a Police Officer Causing Injury, a four year felony; and
- Attempt Disarming a Police Officer, (a taser), a two year felony.
The trooper was treated for the injuries sustained and released.
At their arraignment today, bond was set at $100,000 cash or surety on Wise and $75,000.00 cash or surety on Barber. Their pre-exam conference and preliminary exam hearing are scheduled for Wednesday, March 1 and Tuesday, March 7 respectively, both at 8:30 am in the Berrien County Trial Court – Niles, Michigan.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
February 17, 2017
Officer charged in theft of controlled substances
Kraig Mitchell, 33, of Kalamazoo, has been charged with four counts related to the theft of controlled substances under the possession or control of the Coloma Township Police Department. On January 10, 2017, then a patrolman with the Coloma Township Police Department, Mitchell was discovered to have possession of a heroin/fentanyl mix and codeine tablets.
Relating to the heroin/fentanyl mix (schedule I and schedule II controlled substances, respectively), Mitchell is charged with taking that mixture from the scene of an overdose death he participated in investigating that day in Coloma Township. Later the same day, it is alleged Mitchell was found to be in possession of pills containing codeine, (a schedule III controlled substance). The pills were taken from the township’s MedReturn Box, a secure unit in place for citizens to deposit unused pills and medicine, while an inventory of the deposited drugs was being completed.
Mitchell is charged with Tampering with Evidence, a 10 year felony; Obstruction of Justice, a 5 year felony; one count of Possession of a Controlled Substance, the heroin/fentanyl mix (schedule I and II), a 4 year felony; and one count of Possession of a Controlled Substance, the codeine pills (schedule III), a 2 year felony.
He was arraigned today where bond was set at $10,000 – 10%. Pre-exam conference and preliminary exam hearing dates are set for February 24, 2017 and March 2, 2017, respectively.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
December 21, 2016
Officer cleared in shooting death of Darius Wimberly
Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic announced today the Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety officer involved in the shooting of Darius Wimberly, 28 years old, of Benton Harbor, acted in self-defense and defense of others and therefore no charges will be filed in the death.
In the early morning hours of October 18, 2016, Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety officers were dispatched to the 900 block of Pavone in the city relating to the report of someone being held at gunpoint. The call prompting 911 Public-Safety Dispatch to put that call out appears to be a 3rd party’s interpretation of some events communicated to that caller. It does not appear there was collusion in an attempt to ambush officers.
When officers arrived in the 900 block of Pavone it was not immediately apparent which house the caller was referencing. Officers approached 951 Pavone and discussed the matter with residents there. It appeared to officers no one was held at gunpoint at that location and proceeded to gather information from a resident outside in the front porch area. Officers then heard gunshots fired in their direction from the south on Pavone. An officer armed with a semiautomatic rifle, who was providing cover for the officers dealing with the residents, was on the tree lawn of 951 Pavone. That officer saw and heard the gunfire. He returned fire with several rounds, paused, saw and heard additional gunfire coming from the same direction, and returned more rounds. That officer was the only officer to fire his weapon as other officers were forced to take cover. The officers’ body-worn cameras confirm this series of events.
The officer’s gunfire did cause the death of Darius Wimberly. As officers approached Wimberly after the shooting, a .40 caliber Taurus, semiautomatic pistol was in Wimberly’s hand (see still picture from officer’s body-worn camera below). Fired cartridge casings in Wimberly’s immediate vicinity were identified by the Michigan State Police Firearms Unit as coming from that .40 caliber Taurus. Also in Wimberly’s possession, in a pocket, was .380 caliber Bryco, semiautomatic pistol. In the immediate vicinity where the officer fired his semiautomatic rifle there were 15 fired cartridge casings.
The investigation revealed Wimberly had an issue with someone who had been at that residence on Pavone the evening before, but who was no longer there at the time of the shooting. A relative of Wimberly’s confirms he saw Wimberly with two firearms the previous evening. While there were police vehicles on Pavone, their emergency lights were not on. That area of Pavone was described as being extremely dark that night. It is unknown if Wimberly knew he was shooting at public safety officers.
A police officer may use deadly force when a subject 1) presents a danger to them self, 2) to others; or 3) is a fleeing felon who poses a risk to the public. In this case, the officer clearly was justified in the action he took to protect himself, and to protect the other officers and the resident who were vulnerable to Wimberly’s attack.
Wimberly’s autopsy revealed his cause of death to be multiple gunshot wounds to the legs and torso.
December 2, 2016
Anthony Sanders charged in slaying on Empire Avenue
Anthony Sanders, 20 of Benton Harbor, has been charged with Felony-Murder, Open Murder, Armed Robbery (2 counts), all life maximums, and Felony Firearm, a 2 year consecutive charge. He is accused of shooting Kenneth Martin, Jr., 43, also of Benton Harbor.
Martin and a woman were walking home at 9:00 pm Wednesday, November 30, along East Empire east of Crystal Avenue in Benton Township when they were confronted by Sanders with a shotgun. Sanders announced it was a robbery then shot Martin one time in the upper torso. Sanders ran off in a northerly direction.
Benton Township police received a tip that Sanders was involved and during the day Thursday pursued leads uncovering evidence incriminating Sanders. Benton Township police were assisted by the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force.
Sanders was arraigned today by Judge Donna Howard. Bond was set at $500,000. A pre-exam conference was set for Friday, December 9 with a preliminary exam hearing set for Thursday, December 15, both at 8:30.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
November 2, 2016
Berrien County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sepic concludes July 11 shooting of
inmate Larry Gordon was justified and no criminal charges will result
CLICK HERE FOR THE COMPLETE PRESS RELEASE
October 21, 2016
Court Worker to be Arraigned on Felony Charges
Jessica Holmes, 35, of Eau Claire, is charged with Delivery of a Controlled Substance, a 20 year maximum; Criminal Sexual Conduct in the 2d Degree, a 15 year maximum; and Obstruction of Justice, a 5 year maximum. She is due to be arraigned in the Berrien County Trial Court on or before November 4, 2016 at 2:00. It appears some Berrien County Trial judges are disqualifying themselves from involvement with the case.
The charges stem from Holmes’ employment with the Berrien County Trial Court as a Swift and Sure Program Coordinator. A 16 year veteran with the court, Holmes was recently promoted to the program coordinator position and was managing Swift and Sure probationers. Swift and Sure is a probation status in which probationers, those convicted of felonies and placed on probation, are selected for a state funded program designed for defendants who were likely on their way to prison to be given a second chance to succeed on a local probation term.
It is alleged Holmes developed a relationship with a Swift and Sure probationer after the Berrien County courthouse shooting of July 11. Both the probationer and Holmes were in the courtroom at the time of the shooting. The charges stem from the following allegations: that she delivered a drug, Norco (a schedule II controlled substance), to him to sell on her behalf; that she had a sexual relationship with him prohibited due to her employment with the county while he was a probationer; and that she provided him with confidential scheduling information by which he was to be drug and alcohol tested for the Swift and Sure program.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
September 26, 2016
House Fire Incident Results in Child Abuse and Drug Charges
Luther Dale Borders, 34, of Niles Township has been charged with the following criminal offenses:
- Operating or Maintaining a Drug Laboratory, a 10 year felony;
- Manufacturing Marijuana, a 4 year felony;
- Maintaining a Drug House, a 2 year felony; and
- Child Abuse 2d Degree, two counts; 10 year felonies.
- The maximums in the first three charges can be doubled due to a prior drug conviction.
Borders was arraigned today with a bond set at $25,000.00/10%. A pre-exam conference and preliminary exam were set for October 5 and October 11, respectively both at 8:30 a.m..
The charges stem from a fire at 1119 Stateline Road, Niles Township called in at about 4:30 pm on Tuesday, September 20. Based on the observations of fire personnel at the scene, a search warrant was executed later that evening at that address. Found were the remnants of a THC extraction lab including empty butane fuel cans, a hot plate and vacuum pump. Marijuana was found in that vicinity and elsewhere in the home. Marijuana extraction, also called "dabbing", is a process by which THC, the active hallucinogenic ingredient in marijuana, is extracted using liquid butane. This process is extremely dangerous and has resulted in numerous explosions and fires nationally.
It is alleged in this incident two children, girls 7 and 9, were present at the time of the explosion and fire but fortunately were uninjured. Borders received superficial burns to his arms and face.
The charge is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
Following is a link to a news report from ABC News 7 in Denver which identifies the dangers of the THC extraction process:
September 6, 2016
Murder Charges Against Reginald Collins Dismissed
Charges of Open Murder, Felon in Possession of a Firearm, Felony Firearm, and Habitual Offender supplemental charges against Reginald Collins are now dismissed.
The case originated when Richard Street was found dead in the backyard of 1250 Union Street in the City of Benton Harbor on the morning of December 9, 2014. Street had one gunshot wound to back of the head.
Neighbors reported hearing gun shots the previous evening varying anywhere from 8:30 pm to 10:00 pm. A witness, Timothy Lofton, after repeated interviews finally told investigators he was a witness to the homicide and said he saw Reginald Collins shoot Street while Lofton was driving through the alley behind 1250 Union Street. There were some inconsistencies in Lofton's statement, but prosecutors felt his eyewitness account could overcome those issues.
Cell telephone records were accumulated from a number of phones including Collins, Street and Lofton for the evening of December 8. That data and graphically integrated maps made it originally appear Collins was in South Bend (by virtue of a cell call) at 7:44 pm, 1 hour and 38 minutes before a cell phone call from Lofton to Street which was within moments of when Lofton says Collins shot Street, being 9:22 pm. Certainly, Collins could travel the 35 miles in that 1 hour and 38 minutes.
In preparation for trial scheduled to begin September 20, review of this cell tower data with experts revealed that, though the tower was in the Eastern time zone (South Bend), it is tied to a server in Illinois, being in the Central time zone. This means that Collins would have been in South Bend at 8:44 leaving only 38 minutes to drive 35 miles. While the US 31 By-pass would permit speeds over 70 mph, there is considerable city street driving required at both ends. Test driving revealed little opportunity to complete the travel in the allotted time.
With the state of the original evidence with which the prosecution was originally prepared to go to trial, this new analysis of the cell tower data has created doubt such that prosecutors believe a jury could rationally conclude there is reasonable doubt as to Collins’ guilt. Therefore, dismissal is now required.
The dismissal is without prejudice which means charges can be brought against Collins at a later date. Collins will likely be transported to Georgia where there is a probation violation warrant for him on a drug charge.
July 27, 2016
Berrien County Jail Deputy Investigation
The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department Detective Bureau has investigated allegations of departmental and criminal law violations by jail personnel at the Berrien County Jail. As a result, the bureau has submitted reports to the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office for review of possible criminal charges. The reports include interviews of at least 15 former female inmates. The Berrien County Sheriff has made departmental disciplinary decisions; those decisions are not the topic of this press release.
The submitted reports involve four particular deputies. The three uncharged deputies will not be referred to by name. The allegations implicate the following criminal statutes: criminal sexual conduct with prisoner/probationer and prostitution offenses. In addition to the reports referred to above, the Prosecutor’s Office also reviewed a civil complaint filed recently in Federal Court whose plaintiffs were many of the woman previously interviewed (file number 1:16-cv-00346). Below is the analysis of all the facts available.
Deputy 1 is alleged to have had sexual contact or a sexual relationship with two women who had previously been incarcerated at the Berrien County Jail. It is alleged that Deputy 1 met these women as a result of his employment with Berrien County and pursued contact with them following their release from jail.
The contact with the first woman evolved into sexual contact up to and including multiple occasions of sexual intercourse. It is also alleged that on multiple occasions, Deputy 1 paid the woman for sexual favors. This conduct is alleged to have occurred over a period of years beginning in 2010. Charges have not been filed against Deputy 1 for this conduct. Although this woman did speak with detectives, she has not made herself available to the Prosecutor’s Office despite multiple attempts to contact her. Contact with the Prosecutor’s Office prior to authorization of charges is common when allegations of criminal sexual conduct are involved. Without confirmation of the witness’ statement and their willingness to appear and participate in prosecution, the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office has declined to authorize charges at this time. Even with the presence of some corroborating evidence, cases of this nature rely heavily upon the cooperation and testimony of the alleged victim.
Allegations with regard to the second woman involve Deputy 1 depositing money into her prison account while she was incarcerated in a state prison facility; sexually explicit discussions using a state prison telephone service; and upon her release, funding a shopping trip before initiating sexual contact. These allegations date back to 2014. In determining whether this behavior constituted a crime, the Prosecutor’s Office considered the alleged victim’s prisoner/probationer status, as well as any possible coercion due to the nature of Deputy 1’s position. At the relevant times, based upon the victim’s interview, Deputy 1 could not be found to be coercing the woman based upon his position. At those times, the woman was not on probation nor incarcerated in a facility where Deputy 1 was in a position of authority. During the last alleged contact, the woman rebuffed the sexual advance of Deputy 1, and their contact ended. Therefore, no charges have been have been filed against Deputy 1 for this contact.
A third woman, named in the Federal Complaint, has not reported any allegations of sexual misconduct by any Deputy to police investigators.
None of the conduct involving Deputy 1 is alleged to have occurred within the Berrien County Jail.
At this time, Deputy 1 is no longer employed with the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department.
Deputy 2 was alleged to have sought and maintained contact with multiple adult women who had been incarcerated at the Berrien County Jail and who he met through his employment there. He is alleged to have sought contact with these women via Facebook, text messaging, telephone calls, and through other inmates. The length of contact with these women varied with the longest being approximately 10 years.
Although interviews of these women resulted in disclosure of discussions of a sexual nature with Deputy 2, only one woman disclosed actual sexual contact or any offer of payment for sexual contact. With regard to the woman who is alleging sexual contact, repeated interviews during the police investigation did not reveal information of a sufficiently credible nature on which to base criminal charges.
No charges involving any other women have been filed against Deputy 2 because there was no disclosure of sexual contact in the jail itself, solicitation of sexual contact for money or of coerced sexual contact due to Deputy 2’s position in the jail.
None of the conduct involving Deputy 2 is alleged to have occurred within the Berrien County Jail.
At this time, Deputy 2 is no longer employed with the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department.
Deputy 3 was alleged to have met with a woman at a location away from the jail who he originally came into contact with while she was an inmate in the Berrien County Jail and he was a jail deputy. As there were no allegations of sexual contact within the jail or otherwise, or solicitation of sexual contact for money; no charges have been authorized. Deputy 3 is still employed with the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department.
Deputy 4 was alleged to have met with two women away from the jail following their incarceration at the Berrien County Jail.
The first woman is one he is alleged to have known prior to her incarceration at the Berrien County Jail. It is alleged that following periods of incarceration at the jail, he had contact with her in 2015 by responding to her backpage.com advertisement for companionship. Deputy 4 arranged a meeting for the purpose of engaging her services as a prostitute; however, the investigation revealed no actual sexual conduct occurred. Therefore, the deputy was charged with offering to engage the services of another for the purpose of prostitution by payment of money pursuant to MCL 750.449a. This offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail and/or a fine of $500. The witness will not be charged with a criminal offense.
Deputy 4 is Keegan Oscar Trail, age 23, of Eau Claire, Michigan. He is no longer employed with the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department. Today, Mr. Trail appeared in court today, was arraigned on a warrant alleging 1 count under section MCL 750.449a as noted above, and pled no contest. He was sentenced to fines and costs in the amount of $505.00 and he was ordered to perform 40 hours of community service.
The second woman is one Trail is alleged to have initially come into contact with during her incarceration at the Berrien County Jail while he was a deputy there. Following her release, Trail allegedly made contact with her via Facebook where they made arrangements to see each other. It is alleged that this led to sexual intercourse in exchange for money in June 2014. His alleged conduct during this incident meets the elements of engaging the services of another for the purpose of prostitution by payment of money. Therefore, the deputy could be charged pursuant to MCL 750.449a. This potential charge will not be pursued as a result of a plea agreement. The witness will not be charged with a criminal offense.
None of the conduct involving Trail is alleged to have occurred within the Berrien County Jail.
The incarcerations of most, if not all, of the women involved were related to drug addiction. Their statements to investigators described a feeling of vulnerability to the alleged advances from the deputies due to their continued addiction.
July 21, 2016
Motions Filed to Re-sentence Juvenile Murderers to Life Without Parole
Juveniles who commit murder in Michigan can be tried in adult court for their crime. Michigan's penalty for 1st degree murder is mandatory life in prison without parole. Once convicted of 1st degree murder, a sentencing judge has no discretion and must sentence a defendant to life without parole. While this is the harshest of criminal penalties in our state for all who commit this crime, in Berrien County it has been reserved for some of the most heinous murders by juveniles. There have been a number of juveniles who have committed 1st degree murder, but who, because of the facts of the case and their circumstances, have been offered pleas to lesser offenses. In Berrien County, there have been 36 juveniles since 1980, individuals under the age of 18 years, who were charged with either 1st degree premeditated murder, open murder, or felony-murder, all of which have that mandatory penalty of life without parole. Of those 36, twelve were convicted of 1st degree murder; the other 24 either were found guilty (1), or pled guilty (22) to lesser charges, or the charges were dismissed (1).
In 2012, the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Miller vs Alabama, ruled that the mandatory penalty of life without parole for a juvenile is unconstitutional. The remedy is for a judge to have the discretion to sentence to life without parole or some other sentence, such as life with the possibility of parole or a term of years. As a result of the Miller decision, there were two Berrien County cases pending appeal at the time of Miller that were such juveniles sentenced under the mandatory life without parole sentencing structure: Dakota Eliason and Daquarius Stewart.
The Miller decision prompted the Michigan Legislature to enact a law in 2014 that gave sentencing judges in cases on appeal and in the future, in which juveniles were convicted of 1st degree murder, the choice between life without parole or a term of years. This removed the objectionable part of a mandatory sentence deemed unconstitutional in Miller. If a term of years, the minimum sentence must be between 25 and 40 years, and a maximum of 60 years. The sentencing judge is required to make that decision based principally on factors extracted from the rationale in Miller considering the incompetencies of youth. Regarding the Eliason and Stewart cases, the Berrien County Prosecutor's Office sought to maintain the sentence of life without parole in both cases. Eliason's case was heard and decided in 2015. Eliason received a new sentence of 35 to 60 years. He has 6 years of credit against that sentence. Stewart's resentencing hearing is still pending.
In 2016, the United States Supreme Court ruled the Miller decision is retroactive in the case of Montgomery vs Louisiana. As a result, Berrien County has 10 additional cases directly affected by the Miller/Montgomery decisions.
In the 2014 law mentioned above, the Michigan Legislature contemplated the possibility of retroactivity of the Miller decision and provided for that contingency by creating a process to deal with older cases in the event of such a decision.
We are now at a significant milestone in that process. In those 10 cases in Berrien County, if the prosecutor seeks a decision from a sentencing judge, or that judge's successor, then the prosecutor must file a motion by July 22, 2016. I am announcing at this time that motions seeking a sentence of life without parole in each of those 10 cases has been filed. Below are notes on each of the cases referenced herein.
Factors that a judge must consider in a Miller resentencing hearing relate to the facts of the case and the inmate's involvement in the crime but also the inmate’s history as a youth preceding the murder. Those areas of interest would include family history, prior criminal involvement, mental health issues, school history, and generally the relative maturity of the inmate as a youth to appreciate fully the wrongfulness of their actions. Conduct in prison since their sentence will also be relevant, pursuant to the statute.
Investigation of the Miller factors noted above is continuing by the Berrien County Prosecutor's Office in each of the cases noted.
It is doubtful there will be hearings on these motions soon as most of the defendants will be appointed lawyers and the Michigan Court of Appeals has to decide the issue of whether a jury or judge will make the Miller sentencing decision. The Berrien County Trial Court is currently determining the judicial assignments for each case.
Bobby Gene Griffin
On October 19th, 1967 Bobby Gene Griffin, (dob 11/12/1950), at the age of 16, of Benton Harbor, broke into the home of Minnie Peaples with three others. Ms. Peaples was 84 years old and the widow of a former Benton Harbor police chief. Though the original intent was to rob, Griffin beat Ms. Peaples to death and sexually assaulted her while the others searched her home for valuables. Griffin and the three other individuals came up with the plan to commit a robbery while they were walking home from a pool hall. They chose Ms. Peaples, who lived alone, as their target.
Griffin came up with the plan to gain entry into the home by approaching the homeowner and acting in distress. Griffin knocked on Ms. Peaples door and when she answered the door told her his little brother had been beaten up and needed to call police. Ms. Peaples refused to let Griffin inside her home but offered to call police for him. When Ms. Peaples refused entry, Griffin struck her to the floor and forced his way into her home. After Griffin entered the home the other three young men he was with ran away. The three young men returned a short while later and found Griffin beating Ms. Peaples on the floor. Griffin directed the other three to search the home for valuables and continued to beat Ms. Peaples. Griffin sexually assaulted Ms. Peaples and stabbed her in the face while the others searched the home. When the other three returned from searching the basement, Ms. Peaples was suffering from a multitude of wounds, bleeding profusely, and completely nude with Griffin by her side. Griffin and the other three then left the home with Ms. Peaples’ money and jewelry. Ms. Peaples was still alive when they left her home but later bled to death.
Griffin was convicted of 1st degree premeditated murder and two counts of felony-murder for the burglary and robbery. He was sentenced to life without parole.
Minnie Peaples was an 84-years-old widow living alone at the time of her death in the city of Benton Harbor. Her late husband Charles was chief of police in Benton Harbor, from 1930 to 1931 and undersheriff from 1942 to 1946. Ms. Peaples and her late husband were active members of the First Congressional Church and were well-known figures in the community. Ms. Peaples’ known survivors include her two sons, seven grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.
Tommy Edward Richards
Tommy Edward Richards (dob 3/25/1970), age 17, of Benton Harbor, became a suspect in the disappearance and murder of Shimika Hicks, age 10.
On April 21, 1987, Fiona Hicks contacted the Benton Harbor Police Department to report that her 10 year old daughter, Shimika Hicks, had been missing since the evening of April 20, 1987. The child was last seen in the 700 block of East High Street in Benton Harbor, the residence of the child’s babysitter. A community wide search was initiated for the child. The body of Shimika Hicks was discovered on May 4, 1987, concealed inside of trash bags which had been disposed of in a vacant lot immediately adjacent to the babysitter’s residence.
An autopsy revealed that Shimika had been suffocated shortly after eating dinner on April 20, 1987. The autopsy also revealed that Shimika’s front teeth were loose indicating that she had been struck in the face. In addition, the autopsy revealed a tear in the child’s vaginal wall indicating that she had been violently raped prior to being suffocated.
The investigation quickly led to Richards, Shimika’s neighbor. The investigation revealed that Richards lured Shimika behind his residence located in the 800 block of East High Street where he brutally raped and killed her. Initially, Richards denied killing Shimika, but admitted to discovering her body and then concealing it in the trash bags. Later, in a subsequent statement, Richards confessed that Shimika died while he was sexually assaulting her. In addition, Richards confessed that he wrapped her in plastic bags and disposed of her body after she died.
A jury convicted Tommy Richards of 1st degree felony-murder, and was subsequently sentenced to life without parole.
Shimika Hicks was 10 years old at the time of her death and lived on East High Street in Benton Harbor with her mother, Fiona Hicks, her father, Robert Lucas and two sisters, age 8 and 7 at the time. She was a student at Hull School.
Efran Paredes, Jr.
On March 8, 1989, Efren Paredes, Jr., (dob 4/4/1973), age of 15, of Lincoln Township, laid in wait in a back room of the grocery store where he worked and executed a plan to murder a co-worker, assistant manager Rick Tetzlaff. Rick Tetzlaff was shot 4 times. One bullet entered the back of the head penetrating his brain stem; another went through his heart, another through both of his lungs, and the fourth through an arm. Any of the first three wounds alone would have resulted in his death. Two co-defendants helped get Paredes a gun at the store and assisted in his leaving the scene. Some witnesses testified at trial Paredes seemed to have a fascination with death. Paredes also robbed the store of cash and checks.
Paredes was convicted of 1st degree premeditated murder and sentenced to life without parole. His commutation request was denied by Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2010 after a commutation hearing
At his sentencing hearing a child psychiatrist rendered an opinion that Paredes was of above average intelligence and suffered from no mental illness. He testified there was an obvious lack of sadness or remorse on the part of Paredes, nor did Paredes express any anger for the situation he found himself in, which was considered unusual given that he denied the crimes. He concluded that there was no potential for treatment and that in the interest of the public’s welfare and protection Paredes should be confined in a closed setting.
Paredes’ two co-defendants received 17 year minimum sentences for their part in the murder.
Richard Tetzlaff was married and the father of 1 child at the time of his death. He and his wife Tina lived in Stevensville. Rick was an assistant manager at Vineland Foodland, then located on Vineland Road in St. Joseph Township. Unbeknownst to Richard, Tina was pregnant with their second child. Rick was survived also by his parents, a brother, and a sister.
Leonard Dee Williams
On December 10, 1990, Leonard Dee Williams, (dob 12/6/1974), age 16, of Benton Harbor, was a member of a gang that was in a stand-off with another gang walking through neighborhoods in Benton Harbor. Williams and 2 others shot guns at each other killing a bystander, Tamika Swanson, age 15. Swanson was killed with a bullet from Williams’ .22 caliber pistol.
Williams and his fellow gang members were in a verbal altercation with a rival gang while attending a basketball game at McCord Junior High. Both gangs eventually left the school, walking, and were told not to return. Shortly thereafter, Williams heard several gunshots, presumably from a member of the rival gang. As a result, he and several friends left to retrieve guns of their own – a .38 caliber handgun, a .32 caliber handgun, and a .22 caliber handgun carried by Williams. Upon their return, Williams and his friends hid behind a house near the intersection of Clay and Ogden until members of the rival gang walked by, then jumped out and proceeded to fire numerous shots into the crowd. Tamika Swanson, a 15 year old who had left the game and was walking with a group of friends -- including several members of the rival gang – was struck once in the head with a .22 caliber bullet. Ms. Swanson died as a result of her wound.
After the shooting, Williams and his friends ran to a girlfriend’s house and hid their guns under a bedroom mattress. In a statement to police after his arrest, Williams admitted that he and his friends had intended to shoot members of the rival gang.
Williams was convicted of 1st degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. One of William’s co-defendants pled guilty to 2nd degree murder and was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison. A second co-defendant went to trial and was convicted of 1st degree murder.
Tamika Swanson was a ninth grader at McCord Junior High School. She lived with her mother Earnestine Swanson and several siblings at 825 E. Vineyard in Benton Harbor.
Christopher Michael Tobar
On January 30, 1993, Christopher Michael Tobar, (dob 8/21/1975), age 17, of Benton Harbor, was one of several subjects in a vehicle who targeted Paries Cummings with the intent to rob her. Paries Cummings was visibly intoxicated and walking alone at around 2:30 am along Clay Street in Benton Harbor. Christopher Tobar and another individual exited the vehicle with sawed off shotguns. They ordered Paries to lay face down on the ground, and Christopher Tobar aimed his shotgun at her back. When a passerby came upon them, the other individual pointed his gun at him. Each of them fired their shotguns; Christopher Tobar delivered a fatal shot to Paries Cummings who was still laying face-down on the ground, while his co-defendant’s shot missed the passer-by.
Paries Cummings, age 33, was found lying in a tree lawn in the 500 block of Clay Street. She was still breathing when officers arrived; they observed a shotgun blast to her back with no exit wound. She was transported to the emergency room, but died shortly thereafter.
At the time of this offense, Christopher Tobar was under the jurisdiction of the Berrien County Juvenile Court for a previous weapons offense.
Tobar was convicted of 1st degree felony-murder; a co-defendant was also convicted of 1st degree murder, and another co-defendant pled guilty to assault with intent to rob while armed and received a 10 year minimum sentence.
Paries Cummings was survived by her mother, Mary Cummings, who described Paries as someone who would not do anything to hurt another person. She was a somewhat limited individual who received Social Security for a developmental disability. Because of her disability, she was very close to her mother with whom she lived on Columbus in Benton Harbor. The night she was killed, she was only one to two blocks from her home.
David Lamar Clayton
On the night of August 31, 1994, David Lamar Clayton (dob 1/29/1977), 17 years old, of Niles, shot and killed Samuel Merriweather on East May Street in Benton Harbor. Clayton and his co-defendant, Andre Williams, confronted Merriweather and his two friends, Corey Hall and David Gill, while they were walking down the sidewalk. Merriweather, Hall, and Gill were walking west on May Street when Clayton and Williams rode past the group on bicycles. Clayton and Williams turned their bicycles around and rode back to the three boys. Both Clayton and Williams pulled out handguns and pointed them at Merriweather. Williams asked, “Is that Sam?” As Merriweather looked up Williams stated “That is Sam. Kill him.” Williams and Clayton began firing their pistols at Merriweather. Merriweather screamed and fell to the ground while Hall and Gill ran away. When Benton Harbor police officers arrived on scene Merriweather was having difficulty breathing and was screaming in pain. Officers observed a bullet wound in his upper left chest. Officers asked Merriweather who shot him and he identified Clayton as one of the shooters. Merriweather lived for about eight days after being shot but eventually succumbed to complications caused by the bullet tearing a major vein near his heart. Hall and Gill escaped with no injuries.
Clayton was convicted by jury 1st degree murder, two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, and felony firearm. He was sentenced to life without parole. His accomplice, Williams, 18, was also convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
Samuel David Merriweather, Jr. was 16 years old when he was murdered by David Clayton. Sam lived in Benton Harbor with his mother Lynn Harris and his two younger brothers and his cousin, David Gill. Sam attended Benton Harbor High School and had just completed the third day of his junior year when he was killed. He maintained a 4.0 grade-point average but his grades began to slide when David Clayton and Andre Williams began harassing him. Sam worked as a cashier and cook at Hot N’ Now, then a hamburger drive-thru restaurant, after school.
Allan Gene-Reeder Martin, Jr.
On November 11, 1996, Allan Gene-Reeder Martin, Jr., (dob 3/24/1979), of Benton Harbor at age 17, entered a gun/second hand store with an accomplice to rob the store. The owner, Darrell Piedt, was confronted by the two robbers. Mr. Piedt made a motion to what Defendant thought was the phone. Defendant took his gun from behind his back, placed it to Mr. Piedt’s head, and fired. As Mr. Piedt lay dying on the floor, Martin and his co-defendant took several firearms and left Mr. Piedt to die. The co-defendant pled guilty to armed robbery and received a 20 year minimum. Martin was convicted of 1st degree felony-murder and sentenced to life without parole.
Darrell John Piedt was born on May 31, 1921. He was 75 years old when he was murdered. He left behind his spouse of 53 years, along with a son and a daughter. Mr. Piedt owned John E. Piedt & Sons gun shop and farm supply store at the corner of M-139 and Nickerson Avenue in Benton Township.
Anthony Jovan Givens
On December 2, 1996, Anthony Jovan Givens, (dob 4/11/1979), of Union Pier, age 17, and a probationer entered a home through a window to steal but killed victim Elizabeth Olsen by hitting her with a TV. Olsen’s partner Joy Goldsmith came home during the robbery. Givens beat Goldsmith with a TV also but she survived. Olsen had been sexually assaulted.
Givens was convicted of 1st degree felony-murder and sentenced to life without parole.
Givens was born in Chicago but was sent to live with his grandmother on Locke Road in Union Pier in order to get away from the gang activity in Chicago. Givens was attending New Buffalo High School at the time of this offense. His attendance was sporadic at school.
He had juvenile adjudications from Ingham County in 1995 for unlawfully driving away an automobile and home invasion 2nd degree.
Givens pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful use of an automobile in 1996 in Berrien County and was sentenced to a 3 year term of probation that included 90 days tether. Givens was on tether on the date of this murder.
The deceased Elizabeth Olsen was known as Liza. She and the surviving victim, Joy Goldsmith lived together on Raz Road, New Buffalo.
Givens broke into the home through a window. Givens encountered Liza sleeping in her bedroom. Liza woke up and Givens took a television set in the room and hit Liza three times with it over the head.
Goldsmith then arrived back home while Givens was still in the house. Givens hit her, wrestled her to the back bedroom, and made her lay face down on the floor. Givens then hit her in the back of the head with the television set. Goldsmith sustained a fracture to the back of her skull from the blow. Givens stole some items from the home before he left.
The autopsy of Olsen showed she sustained a number of abrasions and bruising about her forehead and face. She displayed a deep laceration near her right eye and cheek. A very forceful blow with a blunt object was found to be the cause of her death. DNA evidence established Liza had been sexually assaulted by Givens.
Givens was interviewed and confessed to the crime. During the interview, the defendant stated to detectives, “I knew it was just a matter of time before you guys would catch me because I probably would have done this again.”
Givens was convicted at trial of 1st degree premeditated murder, assault with Intent to murder, and two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the 1st degree.
Givens had additional criminal charges filed against him for an incident that took place a few weeks prior to the homicide. Givens broke into the home of a woman that lived on his street. The woman was still was sexually assaulted by Givens. Givens told the woman to “shut-up or I’ll kill you.” He was armed with a knife and struggle with the victim over the knife. He then hit the victim over the back of the head with a bottle. Givens confessed to the assault when he was interviewed by the police. This case was dismissed after Givens was convicted of the murder charge.
Elizabeth Olsen, “Liza,” 44 at the time of her death, was an image consultant and sold beauty products. She had previously been married and had a son and step-daughter. Joy Goldsmith, Olsen’s partner for 15 years, told the court at sentencing: “I hold him no animosity or anger; however, because of the violence of this crime, Givens needs to be removed from the streets forever.”
Mark Anthony Abbatoy
On May 7, 1997, Mark Anthony Abbatoy, (dob 10/25/1979), age 17, of Bridgman, planned with co-defendant Anthony DePalma to steal DePalma’s mother’s car and travel to California. In order to give themselves time to steal the car and allow time to get out of Michigan, their plan was to hit Connie DePalma with a shovel. Abbatoy hit her and killed her with the cooperation and planning of her son, Anthony DePalma.
Anthony Robert DePalma
Anthony DePalma, (5/11/1979) also 17 and also of Bridgman, had been incorrigible for some time. Connie DePalma had recently given her son an ultimatum as he neared his 18th birthday: stay in school or move out after he turned 18. At that juncture, Connie DePalma prohibited her son from using her car. Abbatoy, with Anthony DePalma’s cooperation and planning, hit Connie DePalma multiple times with the shovel, killing her. She was first attacked in her garage. After she retreated into her home from the garage, Abbatoy followed her, attacking her again. While Abbatoy and DePalma agree that Abbatoy struck Connie DePalma both in the garage and inside the house, their stories differ with regard to DePalma’s involvement inside the house. DePalma denies striking his mother at all, while Abbatoy maintains that DePalma delivered some blows once Abbatoy finished and left the room.
The autopsy revealed that Connie DePalma had suffered at least 10 blows to the head, 3 of which would have been fatal. Nine pieces of skull were removed from deep lacerations within her brain. Additionally, she suffered numerous injuries to her upper extremities and abdomen.
DePalma and Abbatoy were both convicted by jury of 1st degree felony- murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Abbatoy and DePalma had been adjudicated as juveniles in 1995 for stealing a car.
Connie Sue DePalma was 48 years old when she was murdered. Prior to her death, Connie lived on Beechnut in Bridgman. She was divorced from the father of her four children. Her youngest son, Anthony, was still living with her at the time of her death as he was a junior in high school. Connie also had three other children, a daughter, Robin, and twin sons, Mike and Jonathan, who were adults at the time Connie was killed. Connie worked for the Department of Social Services while raising her 4 children. She was described as an excellent worker, but a very private person. At the time of her death, she owned a 1994 Ford Thunderbird, which was stolen by her killers, Anthony DePalma and Mark Abbatoy.
Dakotah Wolfgang Eliason
On March 7, 2010, Dakotah Wolfgang Eliason, (dob 9/23/1995), age 14, of Niles, was a 9th grader at Niles Senior High School. In the early morning hours, after considering suicide and contemplating killing, he killed his grandfather, Jesse Miles, by shooting him in the head while he was sleeping on a couch in the living room.
Eliason was convicted of 1st degree premeditated murder and sentenced to life without parole.
The victim, Jessie Miles, age 69, was Eliason’s step-grandfather. He lived on Niles-Buchanan Road with his wife, Jean Miles. Jessie was retired and was an avid hunter. Jessie and Jean often had Eliason stay at their house on the week-ends. There was no suggestion there was ill-will between Eliason and his grandfather.
At a resentencing hearing in 2015, Eliason was sentenced pursuant to Miller to a term of 35 to 60 years.
Dequarius Devontae Stewart
On October 24, 2010, Dequarius Devonta Stewart, (dob 8/26/1993), age 17, of Benton Harbor, laid in wait while the victim, Steven Kruslak, purchased items in a convenience store. Upon leaving the store, Stewart then beat Kruslak with a pipe wrench to rob him. The murder was recorded on an outside store surveillance video. The video shows Stewart beating Kruslak to the ground with the wrench, then striking him two more times in the head, killing him.
Two accomplices pled guilty to armed robbery and received 9 and 15 year minimums. Stewart was convicted by a jury of 1st degree felony-murder and sentenced to life without parole.
Stewart’s case was within the appellate time frame of the Miller decision and his re-sentencing hearing is still pending.
Steven Kruslak was born June 11, 1962. He was 48 years old at the time he was murdered. He left behind a sister. Mr. Kruslak lived in an apartment on Martin St. in Benton Harbor.
July 13, 2016
Berrien Courthouse Shooter was Facing Serious Charges for Criminal Sexual Conduct, Kidnapping
Larry Gordon, 44, of Coloma, Michigan, was being sought for an outstanding warrant for domestic violence, a 93 day misdemeanor. That warrant’s incident date was January 28, 2016. After several attempts to execute the warrant, on April 20, 2016 Officers from Coloma Township Police Department were looking for Gordon at his residence on Tannery Road in Coloma Township where he lived with his ex-wife. Upon arrival, officers observed a light on in a shed on the property and discovered Gordon to be inside. Gordon barricaded himself inside but escaped through a back access door. Gordon fled and was discovered several streets away with the help of a tracking dog and physically resisted exiting from under a porch. Police then discovered the presence of a 17 year old female in the shed. The investigation revealed the following.
The 17 year old had been held against her will by Gordon for approximately two weeks. He gave her methamphetamine in exchange for sex, forced some penetrations, and assaulted her with weapons, and assault by strangulation. He also video recorded the sexual activity.
As a result, Gordon was charged with:
- Five counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, a life maximum;
- One count of kidnapping, a life maximum;
- Three counts of production of child sexually abusive material, a 20 year maximum;
- Possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine, a 20 year maximum;
- One count of criminal sexual conduct in the 3rd degree, a 15 year maximum;
- One count of unlawful imprisonment, a 15 year maximum;
- Two counts of assault by strangulation, a 10 year maximum;
- One count of assault with a dangerous weapon, a 4 year maximum;
- Two counts of resisting and obstructing a police officer, 2 year maximums; and
- Misdemeanor charges of possession of marijuana and malicious destruction of building.
He was supplemented as a 4th habitual offender.
Gordon had previously been convicted of:
- 1992 a federal conviction for possession of pipe bomb;
- 1998 in Barry County, fleeing and eluding 3rd degree;
- 1998 a federal conviction for possession of pipe bomb;
- 2002 a federal conviction for felon in possession of a firearm;
- 2013 in Berrien County, larceny in a building.
Through this investigation, an incident was investigated involving similar conduct with a 16 year old victim in 2006 in Berrien County, which had not yet been charged.
Due to his more serious charges, the original domestic violence charge, a misdemeanor, was being dismissed in court the day of the shootings resulting in the wounding of 1 deputy and the death of two bailiffs. Gordon was shot and killed by other bailiffs while holding a hostage.
If convicted at trial, sentencing guidelines for Gordon's offenses may have been as high as between 18 and 62 years on a minimum sentence.
May 19, 2016
Results of Investigation of Berrien County Jail Death from February 27, 2016
The Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office has received the investigative reports from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department related to the death of Martell Hadley. Hadley was an inmate of the Berrien County Jail from December 22, 2015 to February 27, 2016, the date of his death. Hadley was lodged on a parole detainer on December 22, 2015 based on a 2011 conviction for Home Invasion, 2d Degree. He was subsequently charged with Fleeing and Eluding a Police Officer based on a December 20, 2015 incident. He pled guilty to that charge and was sentenced on February 8, 2016 to a prison term of 1 to 2 years, consecutive to his return to prison for a parole violation.
Included in this investigation are reports of interviews, pictures, videos, recorded telephone calls, recorded jail visits, and autopsy results. This analysis is intended to review the incident for criminal charges.
On February 27, 2016, while making routine rounds through the 1st floor men’s dorms after inmates were within their individual cells for the night, a deputy observed Martell Hadley, age 24, of Benton Harbor, hanging from a sheet in his cell at 10:12 pm. At the time of this discovery, Hadley’s cell door had been mechanically closed by the jail’s master control area. Hadley was in his cell by himself. He was in a dorm that consisted of 5 cells, 4 of which were occupied.
The deputy called for assistance, opened the cell door and with the help of another deputy, Hadley was lowered and resuscitation efforts were begun immediately. Further, 911 was called for an ambulance.
Medic personnel arrived and found no heartbeat but continued with resuscitation efforts. Such efforts continued on the way to the hospital and after efforts in Lakeland Hospital’s emergency room were not successful Hadley was pronounced dead at 10:55 pm.
Following is a review of the various parts of the investigation:
The interviews conducted of the deputies who responded and tended to Hadley and the medic personnel on scene were consistent as noted above. In addition, pictures and video of the cell areas also confirm the above. A sheet from Hadley’s bed was tied to a cold air vent approximately 8 feet from the floor as pictured at right. Jail video does not view the area of the cell where Hadley was found by the initial deputy, as inmates are afforded privacy within the cells as required by law. However, video does view Hadley in the front portion of his cell after entering it, the cell door having closed at 9:00 pm and a view of Hadley apparently writing at a table in the front area of his cell. Some minutes later, Hadley disappears from view to the rear of his cell. The three inmates in the dorm with Hadley were in their cells and indicated they were unaware what Hadley was doing. These inmates would be unable to see Hadley as their view was obstructed by the configuration of the cells.
Recorded telephone calls between Hadley and others, including the evening of his death, support Hadley’s apparent frustration and depression over a personal matter. Recorded jail visits between Hadley and others do not disclose any issues or problems with jail personnel or the treatment he received while in the jail.
Also, a note he appears to have written after entering his cell that night, while it cannot be viewed as a suicide note, it reflects the frustration and depression over the personal matter referred to in the recorded telephone calls.
Additionally, the autopsy report concludes the cause of death was asphyxia by hanging. The forensic pathologist reports the existence of conjunctival and buccal mucosal petechiae, both of which can be indicators of asphyxia. Also, the ligature abrasions about the neck are consistent with the described hanging. While there are some other injuries to Hadley noted, they are described as evidence of treatment. As a result of the examination, the forensic pathologist concludes the manner of death as suicide.
The family of Martell Hadley arranged for a private contracted autopsy to be performed. That autopsy report has not been disclosed to the Sheriff’s Department or the Prosecutor’s Office, and therefore was not available to use to assess the above analysis.
Prosecutor Michael Sepic’s only conclusion to derive from this investigation is that Martell Hadley committed suicide with help from no one with no indication or evidence of foul play from other inmates or jail personnel; and thus, no criminal charges are warranted.
May 13, 2016
Charges Filed in Shooting Death of Benton Harbor Student
On Thursday morning, May 12, the body of Grady Manns, Jr., 18, of Benton Harbor, was found in the vicinity of McAlister and Empire in the city of Benton Harbor with what appeared to be a single gunshot wound to the chest. Interviews with the residents at the house at 154 E. Empire revealed that an argument occurred about midnight between Manns, a visitor to that home, and Terrance Shelby, Jr., 29, the home's resident. A nearby resident heard a single gunshot near midnight in the vicinity of the alley behind that residence. 154 E. Empire is approximately 1 block from the location where Manns’ body was found. Manns was in the 11th grade at Benton Harbor High School and lived in the 1900 block of Territorial Road, Benton Harbor.
An autopsy completed this morning confirms Manns’ cause of death as a single gunshot wound to the chest.
As a result of interviews and a search of the home, charges have been authorized against Shelby for Open Murder and Felony Firearm. Open Murder permits a finding of murder in the first or second degree, both life maximum offenses. Felony Firearm is a mandatory 2 year consecutive sentence. Shelby has been booked into the Berrien County Jail and will be arraigned Monday afternoon at the courthouse in St. Joseph when bond will be set and preliminary exam conference and preliminary exam hearing dates will be set.
Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety was assisted in this investigation by the Michigan State Police Major Case Unit, Berrien County Homicide Task Force, FBI Violent Crimes Task Force, Michigan State Police, and Berrien County Sheriff’s Department.
May 5, 2016
Stewart Convicted of Series of Sexual Assaults
Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic announced today the jury in the trial of Marcus Antuane Stewart returned guilty verdicts on all charged counts in a series of sexual assaults. Stewart, recently of Benton Harbor, is 42 years old. Stewart was convicted in three separate incidents of the following charges:
In the July 29, 2015 incident on North Hull Avenue in Benton Harbor:
- Criminal Sexual Conduct in the 1st Degree, a life maximum or any term of years; and
- Assault by Strangulation, a 10 year maximum.
In the August 17, 2015 incident on Ogden Avenue in Benton Harbor:
- Criminal Sexual Conduct in the 1st Degree, a life maximum or any term of years; and
- Assault by Strangulation, a 10 year maximum.
In the August 31, 2015 incident on Lincoln Street in Benton Harbor:
- Criminal Sexual Conduct in the 1st Degree, a life maximum or any term of years;
- Home Invasion 1st Degree, a 20 year maximum;
- Attempted Assault by Strangulation, a 5 year maximum; and
- Interfering with a Telecommunications Device, a 2 year maximum.
Due to the nature of his prior record he faces a minimum sentence of 25 years at his sentencing on June 13, 2016.
Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Smith presented the People’s case in the courtroom of Judge Donna Howard that started on Tuesday. Ernest White III was Stewart’s defense counsel. The jury deliberated a little over 1 hour before returning it’s verdict.
The case was investigated by the Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety, in conjunction with the Michigan State Police Major Case Unit.
April 5, 2016
Former Director of Ambulance Service Charged With Embezzlement
The Berrien County Prosecutors Office has charged Timothy Gray, age 49, currently of Clearmont, Florida, with the offense of Embezzlement $50,000 to $100,000, a 15 year felony. It is alleged Mr. Gray misappropriated funds from the Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service (SMCAS) while he was executive director from May, 2009 through June 30, 2014. SMCAS is a non-profit, municipally owned and operated advanced life support ambulance service serving the Niles and Buchanan area.
The allegations of misappropriation include excessive “paid time off” in the amount of $58,537; holiday pay and vision reimbursement for which he was not entitled in excess of $10,000; and receiving full salary while on short term disability in excess of $29,700; all totaling just over $98,000. The misappropriations were discovered my Brian Scribner, the new executive director of SMCAS, after Mr. Gray retired in June of 2014.
The case was investigated by the Michigan State Police.
Mr. Gray was arraigned on March 31, 2016. Bond was set at $10,000, 10% and was posted. A preliminary exam conference was set for April 13, 2016 and a preliminary exam hearing for April 19, 2016, both at 8:30 am at the Niles Courthouse.
March 1, 2016
Additional Charges Filed in Death of Infant in Coloma
A charge of Accessory After the Fact, a 5 year felony, has been filed against Autumn Atchley, 31, of Hartford. Atchley is the mother of Carter Donovan, age 8 months, who died February 19. Brandon Tyler Beshires, 30, of Benton Harbor was previously charged with First Degree Murder, Felony-Murder and First Degree Child Abuse in relation to Donovan’s death.
It is alleged that Beshires was providing care for the child during the morning of Friday, February 19 in the Coloma area while Atchley, was at a doctor appointment in Coloma. Beshires was with the child for approximately 1-1/2 hours. During this time frame, it is alleged Beshires caused the child’s head to be struck with such force as to cause the child’s death. Upon Atchley’s return to the vehicle, the couple then drove the child to Lakeland in St. Joseph where he was pronounced dead. Beshires is not Donovan’s father and it is unknown what the relationship is between Beshires and Atchley.
As to Atchley, it is alleged that after she arrived at the hospital she gave police false information in relation to Beshires’ identity and false information in relation to who had access to her child while she was at her appointment. It is alleged this false information continued for several hours after the child’s death. Thus, if proven, her false information could have helped the perpetrator, Beshires, avoid discovery, arrest, trial, and punishment; an accessory after the fact.
Atchley was arraigned today before Judge Arthur Cotter who set bond at $50,000. A preliminary exam conference is set for Wednesday, March 9 and a preliminary examination for March 15, both at 8:30 am.
Beshires’ bond was set at $1,000,000. A preliminary exam conference is set for Wednesday, March 2 and a preliminary examination for March 8, both also at 8:30 am.
February 25, 2016
No Charges Sought in Death of Kidnapper
After review of Michigan State Police investigative reports, Michigan State Police lab analysis reports and autopsy reports, Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic announced he will not seek charges against officers who shot and killed Marcus Meridy at the American Inn on East Napier Avenue in Benton Township on November 18, 2015.
Reports reveal that Meridy, 44, of Benton Harbor, went to The Willows, an assisted living facility, on Niles Avenue, being the work location of his estranged wife, Kenyatta Wright, 38, also of Benton Harbor. Meridy made contact with Wright in the facility around 7:00 am and forced her into her car in the parking lot at gunpoint and drove away. At the time of the abduction at the facility, Meridy displayed a handgun to an employee and threatened the employee with the weapon. Meridy drove to a nearby medical office where he had left another car at which time he forced Wright into that car and drove to the American Inn. At the American Inn he forced Wright into a room he had previously rented and proceeded to sexually assault Wright and restrain her within the room.
Michigan State troopers were notified of the abduction at The Willows, found the abandoned vehicle at the medical office and with the help of the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department discovered another vehicle at the American Inn where troopers confirmed the presence of Meridy and Wright by voice in a room on the second floor at about 9:00 am.
During this span of time State Police command officers began assembling an emergency support (ES) team composed of troopers from surrounding posts. ES team members are trained in active shooting and hostage situations. An ES team member/negotiator outside the hotel began a conversation with Marcus Meridy inside the room by cell phone. Meridy told the negotiator he would commit suicide and refused to release Wright. Also during this time the negotiator was able to speak to Wright who said she was injured and restrained. After approximately 30 minutes on the phone with Meridy and Wright, the negotiator, still with an open phone line, sensed something was wrong in the room, after which she heard a gunshot and then a scream. As the negotiator was relaying these facts by radio to others, the ES team members located near the room on the second floor also heard the gunshot and the scream and decided entry was necessary to assure the safety of the victim.
As the lead ES team member shouldered the door open, he and a second team member were the first to enter. As they entered, they heard a gunshot from inside the room at which time they saw Marcus Meridy standing on the far side of the bed with a firearm in hand. Both ES team members fired rounds at Meridy. Meridy was struck by the rounds, fell to the ground and died after immediate resuscitation efforts proved unsuccessful. Wright was found on the floor on the same side of the bed as the suspect, restrained and with a gunshot wound to her arm.
Firearms analysis determined the two entering troopers fired 6 rounds each from their firearms. At autopsy, Meridy was found to have been struck by nine rounds.
The bullet from the gunshot heard immediately before entry was extracted from the box spring of the bed within the room.
The source of the wound to Ms. Wright’s arm was likely from the rounds fired by the ES team members upon entry.
After the incident, the ES team member first to enter the room discovered his bullet resistant vest (picture 1 below) to be damaged and a bullet found lodged beneath a strap (picture 2 below). It was later confirmed by the lab that bullet was a .22 caliber bullet but damage prevented further identification. It is concluded it was likely fired from the suspect’s recovered Heritage .22 caliber 6 shot revolver (picture 3 below). That revolver was recovered from the floor near the deceased Meridy and found to have two fired casings and 4 cartridges. Also found near the firearm was a baggie with 6 cartridges.
Known to the ES team members who entered and fired rounds are the following facts:
- A woman was kidnapped from her work location and was with the suspect in a room in the hotel
- A firearm was used to threaten the victim and an employee at the work location
- The suspect had made reference to using the firearm to commit suicide
- The suspect would not release the hostage
- The hostage was injured
- A firearm was heard to discharge in the room along with a scream
- Upon entry a firearm was discharged from inside the room
- The suspect was seen with a firearm and a hostage was still in the room
- The suspect, with firearm, was seen moving his arms towards the victim
At the time of the ES team room entry negotiations were unchanged and the dangers to the victim, Wright, remained imminent. After the firearm was heard to discharge inside the room, the ES team members knew a hostage was in peril and thus, entry to the room was necessary. Upon entry, the suspect shot at or towards the team members which caused them to defend themselves and the hostage.
Self- defense is defined as – “at the time he or she acted, the actor must have honestly and reasonably believed that he or she or another was in danger of being killed or seriously injured. If the actor’s belief was honest and reasonable, he or she could act immediately to defend himself or herself.” In this case, the use of force was reasonable and necessary under the circumstances and therefore their actions were in self-defense and defense of others. Thus, there will be no charges sought relating to the death of Marcus Meridy.
It should be noted that had Mr. Meridy survived, he would likely have been charged with kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, several counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to murder and first degree criminal sexual conduct. Additionally, while Mr. Meridy’s death is extremely unfortunate, the skilled and heroic actions on the part of Michigan State Police ES team members prevented this tragedy from being significantly worse.
The Michigan State Police were assisted in this incident by the FBI, Berrien County Sheriff’s Department and the Benton Township Police Department.
February 22, 2016
Charges Filed in Death of Infant in Coloma
Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic has filed First Degree Murder, Felony-Murder and First Degree Child Abuse charges against Brandon Tyler Beshires, 30, of Benton Harbor in the death of Carter Donovan, age 8 months.
It is alleged that Beshires was providing care for the child during the morning of Friday, February 19 in the Coloma area while the child’s mother, Autumn Atchley, 31, of Hartford, was at a doctor appointment in Coloma. Beshires was with the child for approximately 1-1/2 hours. During this time frame, it is alleged Beshires caused the child’s head to be struck with such force as to cause the child’s death. Upon Atchley’s return to the vehicle, the couple then drove the child to Lakeland in St. Joseph where he was pronounced dead. Beshires is not Donovan’s father and it is unknown what the relationship is between Beshires and Atchley.
An autopsy was performed Saturday in Grand Rapids.
The penalty for First Degree Murder and Felony-Murder is life without parole and the penalty for Child Abuse First Degree is life, or any term of years.
Beshires was arraigned today before Judge Dennis M. Wiley who set bond at $1,000,000. A preliminary exam conference is set for Wednesday, March 2 and a preliminary examination set for March 8 at 8:30.
January 15, 2016
Charges Filed in Double Homicide in Hagar Township
The Michigan State Police, Niles Post, answered a dispatch call to the 6400 block of M-63, Coloma, Michigan on Thursday evening, January 14.
Initial investigation revealed that two individuals in the home were deceased and two children ages 4 and 3 were missing from the home. In addition, a 2003 Chevrolet Malibu was missing from the residence.
The two deceased were Renee Mitchell, age 27, and her father, John Mitchell, age 67, both residing at the home on M-63. Renee Mitchell was the mother of the two children.
Further investigation revealed the father of the children, Alex Perez, age 24 of Los Angeles, California was recently present in the area and in the home of the deceased within the last 48 hours.
After an Amber Alert was broadcast through the Law Enforcement Information Network, a Clear Creek County Sheriff’s deputy discovered the above vehicle in a parking lot in Georgetown, Colorado, a town about 50 miles west of Denver, at about 1:00 am local time this morning. In the car were Alex Perez and his two children.
Mr. Perez was arrested at that time and the children were placed with Colorado’s Department of Human Services. The Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office has today charged Perez with 2 counts of 1st Degree Murder, the penalty for which is life, without the possibility of parole.
Autopsies and cause of death are pending.
The Michigan State Police were assisted in the investigation by the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department. The Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office will seek extradition to Michigan. It is unclear how long it will take to return Mr. Perez to Michigan.