Crawford County Prosecutor tries to bring added charges in murder case based on new testimony
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
The Crawford County Prosecuting Attorney is trying to add more charges in a case for a man already charged with murder, while his defense attorney is hammering away at the credibility of a co-defendant and questioning the timeline when the incident occurred.
A second preliminary hearing was held on Friday, August 30, in Crawford County District Court for Matthew Franklin Smith, 37, of Canton. Smith is awaiting a jury trial for one count of homicide-open murder, which carries a sentence of life in prison.
Crawford County Prosecutor Sierra R. Koch is seeking to have Smith charged with torture, which carries a sentence of life or any number of years in prison, and unlawful imprisonment, a 15-year felony.
In an opinion issued on January 22, Chief Crawford County Probate and District Court Judge Monte J. Burmeister declined to bind Smith over to the Crawford County Circuit Court on those same charges to face a jury trial.
Dylan Ziegler, 19, of Romulus, on Monday, April 15, in Crawford County Circuit Court, 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.
The men 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.
Last week, David Hayhurt, a technician at the Michigan State Police Forensic Lab in Grand Rapids, testified about DNA samples he tested from the camper where Everson’s body was found.
Hayhurt said samples taken from the wall of the camper, door of the camper, a shirt found inside, and a sample taken from a brown paper bag were likely to be linked to Everson. He added that one sample taken from a tie-down strap could likely be linked to Smith.
Ziegler took the stand for the first time last week to testify against Smith. He 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 later came out of house later and started yelling derogatory remarks at Smith and spilled beer in his lap, which set Smith off.
“Matt flipped,” Ziegler testified.
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.
Ziegler admitted to hitting Everson in the back of the head.
Under cross expansion from Gaylord attorney Kevin L. Hesselink, who is representing Smith, Ziegler claimed that he did not hit Everson hard. Hesselink countered that the blow was hard to enough to render Everson unconscious.
“You knocked him out,” Hesselink argued.
Ziegler said he hit Everson because Smith told him to and that he was scared of Smith.
Everson was taken to 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.
Ziegler said Everson was conscious and questioned what was occurring.
“Why are you doing this Matt? Why are you doing this? I treated you like a son. Why would you do this to me?” Zieger testified.
Smith drove his truck on a trail leading away from the camper. Ziegler said that Smith retrieved something from the back of the truck. He said he could not see what it was because it was dark.
Ziegler sat in the truck for 15 minutes. As Ziegler started going into the woods to find Smith, Smith came out the woods. Ziegler said Smith indicated what had taken place.
“He told me the job was done,” Ziegler testified.
The men returned to Everson’s home and retrieved their belongings, packed them in the truck and changed clothes. They slept in the truck on a two-track trail located north of Everson’s property that night. They then returned downstate.
Ziegler said Smith told him not to talk about what happened as they were traveling home.
Hesselink called three witnesses in an attempt to cloud the timeline when the murder occurred.
Dan Miller testified that Everson came over to a friend’s house a couple of days prior to July 4 and asked them to stop shooting off fireworks because he had just laid his granddaughter down in bed for the night. Miller also claimed that Smith showed up at the property around the same time and asked them if they would be interested in buying a trike motorcycle. Miller said no deal was made and no money was exchanged.
Michael Nagy testified that he is a friend of Everson’s because both men were veterans. He said he visited with Everson at the home of Everson’s mother, Kay Welch, while Nagy was there taking care of her dogs. He said they talked and drank beer together on July 4 and believes that was the day because the Dial-A-Ride busses were not running because it was a holiday.
Welch testified that she believes Everson was there on July 4, but did not see him because she returned home late.
In closing arguments, Koch said enough detailed evidence was given last week to warrant the additional charges against Smith. She added that Smith caused severe mental pain and suffering by trying to burn Everson alive.
Hesselink countered by arguing Ziegler is not a credible witness and the details he gave did not match statements made to Det. Sgt. Ryan Swope from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office.
“He’s quite frankly all over the board. He gives you a little piece, and he doesn’t recall,” Hesselink claimed. “It’s almost like he is trying to memorize what he supposed to be saying.”
Hesselink further argued that Ziegler’s mother, Stacey Ziegler, prodded him into making statements against Smith while talking with investigators.
“She’s got an ax to grind,” Hesselink said. “She wants to get her little boy off of this charge, and that’s how she’s done it, and put it in his mind to nail my client with that.”
Ziegler said the phone conversations he had with mother from jail occurred after he had already talked to the police.
Under questioning from Hesselink, Ziegler acknowledged that he had assaulted his mother and sister in the past. He also said he was diagnosed as being bipolar when he was little, but was not taking medications where the incident occurred in Frederic.
Hesselink argued that Ziegler has a more violent nature of the two men, and Smith should not face the added charges.
“These are just shots in the dark to see if something sticks,” Hesselink said.
Burmeister said he would take the evidence and arguments under advisement, review the testimony and case law provided to determine if the prosecutor has met the burden of proof for the new charges.