2017-04-19 / Front Page

ZEMMER TEENS CHARGED AS ADULTS

Trio face life in prison for plot to shoot up middle school
BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 •

LAPEER — The Zemmer Middle School teens accused of plotting to kill students at the school have rejected plea offers from the Lapeer County Prosecutor’s Office and have been charged as adults. They’re scheduled to appear before 71A District Court Judge Laura Cheger Barnard at 9 a.m. Friday for a probable cause hearing.

The Zemmer teens, all too young for driver’s licenses, appeared individually with Family Court Judge Justus Scott Monday afternoon before being sent to Magistrate Greg Wise’s courtroom to be arraigned as adults.

The trio, a 15-year-old from Mayfield Township, a 14-year-old from Deerfield Township and a 15-year-old from Metamora Township, are accused of plotting a Columbine-style massacre at Zemmer. They’ve been held without bail since last month at the Genesee Valley Regional Center (GVRC) and Wise ordered that they continue to be held at the juvenile detention center at least until Friday.

All three have been charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit terrorism and two counts of using a computer to commit a crime. The Deerfield teen has been charged with an additional count of using a computer to commit a crime and making a false report or threat of terrorism.

A conviction in adult court on the most serious charge, conspiracy to commit murder, could lead to a sentence of life in prison.

The hearings had been set to begin at 2:30 p.m. in Scott’s third-floor court but the first of the three defendants, the Mayfield Township youth, didn’t appear with his attorney, Bernard Jocuns, until 3:30 p.m.

All three defense attorneys rejected Assistant Lapeer County Prosecutor David Campbell’s plea offer, but only Jocuns was willing to have it read into the record. Lapeer County Prosecutor Mike Sharkey declined to go into specifics, but did say the other offers were similar.

“The objective,” Sharkey said, “was to give them a path to put this behind them” while “protecting the children of the community.”

Campbell told Scott the prosecutor’s office was willing to offer the Mayfield Township teen probation until his 21st birthday and remove the felony convictions from his record at the time, if he agreed to plead guilty as an adult to conspiracy to commit terrorism and using a computer to commit a crime.

As a condition, Campbell wanted the Mayfield Township teen to cooperate and testify truthfully about the information he has on his co-defendants.

Colleen Starr, the attorney for the Metamora Township teen, asked for an adjournment because her independent psychologist hadn’t been able to meet with her client until last Tuesday and had not finished writing his report yet.

Scott denied the request and she rejected the prosecutor’s offer.

Matthew Northwood, attorney for the Deerfield Township teen, who one of the other defense attorneys describes in court documents as the ringleader, also rejected the prosecutor’s offers. All three hearings were over in about 15 minutes.

Campbell said that while competency exams Scott had ordered last month had been completed, his office hadn’t received copies of the results yet. Scott instructed the defense attorneys to provide prosecutors with copies of the results.

All three defendants were in Wise’s basement courtroom an hour later. Their attorneys all asked for reasonable bail, but Wise decided to keep them at GVRC until at least Friday.

While Campbell told Wise that the Deerfield Township teen had written that he wanted to “exterminate everyone we can find,” Norwood said the only weapon the boys “had access to was a Nerf gun.”

Starr suggested that her client’s alleged threats were protected under the First Amendment and that since they weren’t intended to be carried out until 2020, when they would be seniors, they were not credible threats.

Campbell noted that of all the defendants, Jocun’s client, when given a chance to take it back insisted that his actions hadn’t been a joke.

“He’s barely old enough for pit stick deodorant, your honor,” Jocuns said. He noted that during his time at GVRC, the Mayfield Township youth has “become a mentor to other kids” and has earned the right to more visitation time with his family.

While Campbell told Wise that Jocuns’ client was “unique in when police officers gave him a chance to disavow his statements, he embraced them,” Jocuns noted the tape that reportedly proves that has gone missing.

All three attorneys argued that their clients were not a flight risk, but Wise rejected the arguments.

However, a Metamora Township woman whose 15-year-old son went to Zemmer with the three said, “We’ve got to do something to help them out.”

Denise Burbary- Muston, said, “I thought other people would be here.” Describing herself as “a concerned parent” she said she’s appalled by the idea of “taking a child and throwing away the key.”

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