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Alpena court debates leniency for youth

ALPENA — When is a crime by a young person a youthful mistake, and when does it become a grave offense with no kids-will-be-kids second chance?

Several cases in Alpena’s 26th Circuit Court on Monday addressed that question as young offenders and their families waited and worried in the hard benches of the courtroom.

Attorneys debated the proper application of Michigan’s Holmes Youthful Trainee Act in the sentencing of Abigail Schlegel, 20, of Alpena.

HYTA status allows criminal offenders between the ages of 17 and 23 to serve a term of probation after which, if no further offenses occur, the offender’s criminal record becomes closed to the public.

Schlegel, accused of delivering methamphetamine over the course of several months earlier this year, was the victim in two recent circuit court sentencings in which men broke into her apartment, threatened her with a baseball bat, and took drugs from her home, alleging she had sold drugs that caused a friend to overdose.

That allegation — that she sold drugs on which someone later overdosed — has never been charged, Schlegel’s attorney said, and shouldn’t be a determining factor in her sentence.

The ongoing sale of a controlled substance over a period of several months is not a childlike slipup, Alpena County Prosecutor Ed Black said, and would go against the purposes of HYTA, which he said was established to keep young people from being unduly punished for a mistake made because of the incomplete brain development of their youthful years.

“To grant this individual HYTA sends the absolute wrong message,” Black told the court, and would use the law’s leniency improperly to aid someone facing multiple charges for very serious felonies.

Defense attorney Bill Pfeifer contended that HYTA’s intent is to allow a young person the opportunity, if they do the work to make it happen, to become a productive member of society somewhere down the road.

Certain crimes, including murder, armed robbery, and first- or third-degree criminal sexual conduct, are excuded from HYTA consideration, but the act still allows for “the fact that some young people might do some really stupid things, including delivering drugs to other people,” Pfeifer said.

The challenge, Pfeifer said, is to determine “what the court can do, what the law can do, to assist someone to rehabilitate themselves” while still protecting the community.

If the court can help his defendant fix her life and move forward, he said, “why would we not try to do that?”

Judge Benjamin Bolser, before handing down his sentence, noted that he had received and read numerous letters of support and requests for leniency toward Schlegel, who has struggled with addiction and mental health issues most of her life.

“I’m just curious where those people have been all her life,” Bolser said, sentencing Schlegel to two years in prison and a third year of probation, after which time she may have her records protected by HYTA status.

Bolser presided over the court Monday in the absence of Circuit Court judge Michael Mack, whom Bolser suspended from hearing cases amid a Michigan State Police investigation into Mack. Officials have not disclosed the reasons for Mack’s ouster or the MSP investigation. Mack announced he will retire Jan. 3.

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A guilty plea that may result in up to life in prison was entered Monday, 18-year-old Damian Barton, of Alpena, admitting multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct toward a minor.

Barton pleaded guilty to digital penetration of a child younger than 13, a first-degree criminal sexual conduct charge with a potential life sentence, plus two counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct for touching a minor in a sexual manner.

A separate charge of bestiality was dropped as part of a plea agreement.

Barton will be sentenced in January.

The News does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.

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A 17-year-old will go to prison for two years as punishment and possible rehabilitation after he admitted to having sexual contact with minors when he was 16.

Charged first as a juvenile, Dustin Bredow was moved to the adult system for the offense, largely, attorneys said, because the juvenile system couldn’t afford to place him in residential treatment, a solution both attorneys and the judge agreed would have been preferable.

Bredow admitted Monday to having what the defense attorney characterized as consensual sex with a minor late last year.

Compliance by the victim doesn’t necessarily equal willingness, Black pointed out. At a young age, a person doesn’t have the adult sensibilities and experience to tell them how to get out of an unwanted situation.

“As a 13-year-old, do you know to do that?” Black asked. “And do you know to do that when you’re in that situation? That’s the whole reason there’s statutory rape.”

Bredow also pleaded guilty to coercing several girls ages 13 to 15 into sending him photos of their breasts, including one incident in which he wouldn’t let a young girl out of his car until she complied with his wishes.

The nature and number of the charges against Bredow resulted in guidelines suggesting a sentence of 84 months’ incarceration, an amount from which Bolser deviated downward. The decision took into account a tragic family background for Bredow. His parents were sentenced to prison in a murder case when Bredow was an infant.

In pre-sentencing statements, defense attorney Pfeifer acknowledged that the residential treatment that would best heal Bredow’s scars and help him move forward was financially impossible for the county.

The next-best option for the court, Pfiefer said, is to send Bredow to a correctional facility where he can receive treatment while he’s incarcerated, “but not to give up on him and throw him away.”

Locking a young man in prison is not easy for anybody, Black said, but he reminded the court of the girls who had, at a tender age, been pressured into submitting to Bredow’s wishes.

“Those young girls didn’t ask for this,” Black told the court.

Again stating the wish that funding were available for long-term juvenile placement when the defendant could get his needs met, Bolser sentenced the young man to two to 15 years in prison. Bredow will be required to register for at least Tier 1 status on the sex offender registry, with a higher status level being taken under advisement by the judge.

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An Alpena man who came to blows with police was sentenced to 11 months in jail Monday, shortly before attempting to swallow a handful of pills outside the courtroom.

Kaden Johnson, 18, was consigned to the Alpena County Jail for an August incident in which he spat on and fought police officers, used a sexual epithet against two female officers and threatened their jobs, and had to be physically restrained, even after being fired at with a stun gun as he fought his way down a set of steps and into a patrol car.

Observing that quite a few cases of resisting arrest/assaulting an officer have wended through local courtrooms recently, and pointing to the violent nature of Johnson’s crime, Black requested that Johnson not be grated the HYTA status requested by his attorney, despite his youth, with which the judge agreed.

After Johnson had been led from the courtroom by officers, shouting erupted from the corridor, an officer’s voice barking the repeated command to “spit it out.”

According to a corrections officer, Johnson had attempted to swallow unspecified pills before being handcuffed. After a few moments, court continued as attorneys and judge calmly addressed the next case.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.