Canton man accused of murder will face new charges at his upcoming jury trial
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A 37-year-old Canton man accused of murdering a Frederic resident will face more charges when his case goes before a jury.
Chief 46th Trial Court Judge George J. Mertz arraigned Matthew Franklin Smith on Friday, October 4, on charges of torture and unlawful imprisonment. The charges carry a penalty of life or any number of years in prison.
Gaylord attorney Kevin L. Hesselink, who is representing Smith, asked that not guilty pleas be entered on behalf of his client.
Smith and Dylan Ziegler, 19, of Romulus, are accused of killing Dennis Everson, 64, from Frederic, who was reported missing by family members on Friday, July 6, 2018. The family told Crawford County Sheriff’s Deputies that Everson had not been heard from since Monday, July 2.
Smith, Ziegler, and Everson were scrapping metal in the Frederic area days before the murder occurred.
On Monday, April 15, in Crawford County Circuit Court, Ziegler pled guilty to torture, and manslaughter, a 15-year maximum sentence in prison.
Charges were dropped against Ziegler for conspiracy to commit homicide-open murder and conspiracy to commit torture.
In exchange for the deal, Ziegler agreed to testify at the jury trial for Smith. If he testifies truthfully and follows through with all the conditions of his plea deal, he will face a minimum of up to 10 and a half years in prison. Ziegler will be sentenced after Smith’s jury trial.
In a preliminary examination held in Crawford County District Court on August 30, Ziegler said Smith and Everson were involved in an argument earlier in the day on July 2.
Ziegler said Everson came out of his house and punched him in the face. Ziegler and Smith were drinking liquor and smoking marijuana in a truck.
Everson came out of his house later and started yelling derogatory remarks at Smith and spilled beer in his lap, which set Smith off.
Smith pulled Everson to the ground by his hair and started beating him with his hands and fists while he was trying to retreat into the house. Smith, with the assistance of Ziegler, loaded Everson into the back of the truck.
Everson was able to escape the bed of the truck, but was grabbed and beaten by Smith a second time.
Everson was taken to a nearby property, where scrap metal was stored and a camping trailer was parked. Smith attempted to start the trailer on fire, but Everson was able to put the fire out. Smith then propped the door of the trailer shut with a two by four board.
Smith drove his truck on a trail leading away from the camper. Ziegler said that Smith retrieved something from the back of the truck.
An autopsy concluded that Everson died from blunt force trauma to the head.
In an opinion issued on Wednesday, September 25, Chief Crawford County Probate and District Court Judge Monte J. Burmeister noted that the state statute for torture establishes that minimal circumstantial evidence will suffice to establish the defendant’s state of mind.
He added that Everson’s attempting to escape and his comments and pleas while he was trapped in the trailer was sufficient evidence to bind the torture charge over to Circuit Court.
“A fair reading of this situation would identify that the victim was going through an extraordinary event, was aware of it, was pleading with his captor and assaulter, and was suffering emotional distress,” Burmeister said in his written opinion.
As to the unlawful imprisonment charge, Burmeister pointed out that one of elements established in the state statute says the person was restrained to facilitate the commission of another felony or to facilitate flight.
Based on Ziegler’s testimony, Burmeister determined that there was clear intent for Smith to commit the felony of arson in the context of restraining Everson. Therefore, he bound him over on the unlawful imprisonment charge.
Hesselink and Crawford County Prosecutor Sierra R. Koch told Mertz that they would need 90 days to prepare for the jury trial. They requested nine days for the trial.
Koch said she would be filing motions to admit prior acts Smith has been charged with or accused of as evidence for the jurors to consider.
Hesselink maintained that there is scarce physical evidence, DNA, blood evidence and lack of an eyewitness to tie Smith to the murder of Everson, arguing there is less likelihood of obtaining a conviction by a jury.
Mertz denied a request from Hesselink to have Smith’s bond lowered and to be released on a tether so he could gain employment to pay for transcripts needed for the trial as well as attorney fees to continue representing him.
Mertz maintained the $500,000 bond for Smith, saying that was sufficient to ensure he will appear for the trial and for the safety of the public.