Cases for two men suspected of murdering Frederic man bound over to circuit court for trials
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Two downstate men had their cases bound over to Crawford County Circuit Court on core charges linked to the murder of a Frederic man, while a majority of other charges were dismissed.
Chief Crawford County Probate and District Court Judge Monte J. Burmeister, in an opinion issued on Jan. 22, bound Matthew Franklin Smith, 37, of Canton, and Dylan Ziegler, 18, of Romulus, over to the higher court for jury trials.
The men are accused of killing Dennis Everson, 64, from Frederic, who was reported missing by family members on Friday, July 6. The family told Crawford County Sheriff’s Deputies that Everson had not been heard from since Monday, July 2.
Smith now faces one count of homicide-open murder, which carries a sentence of life in prison. Burmeister ruled there was not sufficient evidence for Smith to face charges of conspiracy to commit homicide-open murder, torture, conspiracy to commit torture, unlawful imprisonment, conspiracy to commit unlawful imprisonment and third-degree arson.
Ziegler was bound over on charges of conspiracy to commit homicide-open murder and conspiracy to commit torture, which carry a sentence of life or any number of years in prison. The judge dismissed the homicide open-murder charge, which Ziegler faced, along with charges for torture, unlawful imprisonment, conspiracy to commit unlawful imprisonment and third-degree arson.
Burmeister credited 44 exhibits submitted by Crawford County Prosecuting Attorney Sierra R. Koch and law enforcement in the probable cause hearings for the two men on Oct. 18 and Jan. 9. One exhibit was a report from of the autopsy, which indicated Everson died from blunt force trauma to the head.
The judge cited testimony given by Detective Sgt. Jamie Voss, from the Gaylord Post of the Michigan State Police, in his opinion. Specifically, he noted that Voss observed a thumbprint-size circle on the visor of Smith’s pick-up that was reddish in color, which he suspected could be blood.
Further, the detective discovered a wooden handled hammer, an axe and a small baseball bat in the back of Smith’s truck, which had smudges or smears of what he believed was blood. The truck was parked in a secluded area behind the home where Smith was living.
Voss observed sheet metal screws in the back of the truck and in the middle arm rest compartment in the truck.
Burmeister also credited the testimony from Jennifer Patchin, a forensics scientist from Michigan State Police Forensics lab in Grayling, who did presumptive tests, which indicated the possible presence of blood on the ignition and the passenger side interior door of the truck. Samples taken from the hammer and axe were sent forward for further DNA analysis. The results of those tests are still pending.
Burmeister also noted that Sarah Forman, a forensics scientist from Michigan State Police Forensics lab in Grayling, found a screw in Everson’s hair, while she was investigating the crime scene where his body was discovered.
Burmeister pointed out that Smith made statements to Stacy Ziegler, Dylan’s mother, to provide an alias for him, if her vehicle was pulled over by police whey they were traveling in a group. Smith also told Stacy they had to kill an old man while he was up north.
Stacy also observered Smith throw clothing into a fire pit. She told Dylan to put out the fire, but Smith asked him not to follow her instructions.
“The prosecutor has met the burden of probable case, albeit through a circumstantial case, to establish that Smith killed Everson,” Burmeister wrote in his opinion.
Addressing Smith’s Sixth amendment right to have a fair trial, Burmeister said some of the evidence could be used in the case, but other statements could not be considered.
Anthony Bentley, an inmate in the Crawford County Jail, claimed that Smith showed him a photocopy of a Facebook selfie, which he was told was taken just before the murder occurred.
Burmeister ruled that the photo could be used as evidence, which indicated Smith was in the area when the murder occurred.
“The Facebook photo demonstrated that defendant Smith was on Everson’s property on the day the police believed Everson went missing,” Burmeister wrote in his opinion.
Burmeister pointed out that Bentley sought out the authorities for the purpose of informing them of Smith’s comments, not the other way around. He had already been placed in the cell block, where Smith is being held.
Burmeister ruled that testimony given by Bentley after he signed a pre-trial statement on Sept. 10, 2018 could not be used in the trial for Smith.
“He went from a life in prison offense to a four-year cap on his lesser felony plea,” Burmeister ruled.
Statements made after Bentley agreed to the plea deal cannot be used in further court proceedings, Burmeister ruled.
“There is nothing improper about the police and prosecutor receiving the information Mr. Bentley received during the August meetings, as Bentley was not an agent,” Burmeister ruled. “Any information gleaned after Sept. 10, 2018, regarding statements by Smith are excluded because by then, he was acting as a government agent and it appeared he was actively eliciting information and that would be in violation of defendant Smith’s Sixth amendment rights.”
Unlike the case against Smith, Burmeister pointed out that Ziegler had a number of interviews with law enforcement regarding the crime.
Detective Sgt. Ryan Swope, from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, testified that Everson came out of his home after the three men had been scrapping that day, and punched Ziegler in the face. Everson later came out of house 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.
Swope testified that Smith told Ziegler that they were going to burn Everson or drown him in a lake. Everson was able to escape the bed of the truck, but was grabbed and beaten by Smith a second time.
Burmeister pointed out the Ziegler’s admission that he hit Everson while he was in the back of the truck could be used in the conspiracy charges Ziegler faces. The judge said that Ziegler committed the acts to render Everson non-responsive and not a flight risk.
“In other worlds, he takes actions to assist Smith in his plan for a homicide,” Burmeister said.
Finally, Burmeister noted that Ziegler was not directly involved in the actions that resulted in the death of Everson, but was at the scene.
“The record does not indicate he was acting as a look-out,” Burmeister wrote in his opinion.