One murder suspect enters into a plea deal while another one given hefty bond
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A downstate teen linked to the murder of a Frederic man entered into a plea deal agreement to lesser charges on Monday, while his co-defendant was given a significant bond in an attempt to keep him in jail.
Dylan Ziegler, 18, of Romulus, on Monday, April 15, in Crawford County Circuit Court, pled guilty to torture, a felony that carries up to life or any number of years in prison, 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 in the jury trial for Matthew Franklin Smith, 37, of Canton. Smith faces one count of homicide-open murder, which carries a sentence of life in prison.
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, Ziegler, and Everson were scrapping metal in the Frederic area days before the murder occurred.
In a previous court hearing, Det. Sgt. Ryan Swope, from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, said Ziegler told him that Everson came out of his house and punched him in the face. Ziegler and Smith were drinking liquor and smoking marijuana in the truck.
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.
Ziegler admitted to hitting Everson in the back of the head to render him unconscious.
Swope testified that 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.
Smith drove his truck on a trail leading away from the camper. Ziegler told Swope that Smith retrieved something from the back of truck. Smith returned 15 minutes later, and told Ziegler not to talk about what occurred.
The men slept in the truck on a two-track trail located north of Everson’s property that night. They then returned downstate.
Under questioning from his attorney Michael Brown, Ziegler testified on Monday that Smith poured transmission fluid into the back of the truck to cover up blood evidence. The two men also washed the bed of the truck at a car wash.
Ziegler testified that Smith bought new tires for the truck so that tire tracks could not be matched to those found at Everson’s home and where the murder occurred.
Finally, Ziegler testified that Smith threw some clothing and shoes in a fire pit at the home of his mother, Stacy Ziegler, while they were there for the Fourth of July holiday.
Ziegler has agreed to testify in the jury trial for Smith, which is slated for September. 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 separate hearing on Monday, Gaylord attorney Kevin L. Hesselink requested that Smith be granted a $10,000 cash or surety bond and to be placed on a tether. He argued that would allow Smith to earn an income to pay for his defense at the jury trial.
Hesselink argued that evidence against Smith is all circumstantial. He also said surveillance video from the Beacon & Bridge Market in Frederic, where Smith went to buy liquor just after hours after the homicide occurred, did not show blood on Smith’s clothes or evidence that he had been in a fight.
Hesselink further noted the Ziegler and another Crawford County jail inmate agreed to plea deals for significantly less time in prison in exchange for their testimony.
Hesselink also pointed out that Stacy Ziegler has a vested interested to testify against Smith at trial to lessen the amount of time her son serves in prison.
“All this is going to be is a credibility contest in front of a jury,” Hesselink argued.
Crawford County Prosecuting Attorney Sierra R. Koch said there is some DNA evidence and blood evidence from Smith, which were collected from the crime scene. She said a report from of the autopsy indicated Everson died from blunt force trauma to the head.
“The fact that he didn’t have blood on his shirt doesn’t mean he didn’t kill him,” Koch argued.
Chief 46th Trial Court Judge George J. Mertz said the likelihood of conviction, seriousness of the crime, and involvement of substance abuse should be factored into considering the bond.
Consequently, Mertz set a $500,000 cash or surety bond for Smith on Monday.
Both Smith and Ziegler were denied bond due to the seriousness of the offense and the violent nature of the crime after they were arrested.