Probable cause hearing for two men accused of killing Frederic man will continue early next year
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
An attorney for one man accused of killing a Frederic resident in July requested more time to study 11th hour charges filed before a court hearing last week, while a lawyer for another suspect is reserving the right to challenge the testimony of a jailhouse inmate to preserve his client’s Constitutional rights.
Dylan Ross Ziegler, 18, of Romulus, and Matthew Franklin Smith, 37, of Canton, were in the Crawford County District Court on Thursday, Oct. 18 for their preliminary examinations. 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.
Crawford County Prosecuting Attorney Sierra R. Koch and law enforcement put 11 witnesses on the stand and introduced 44 exhibits at the probable cause hearing in hopes of binding the men over to Circuit Court for a jury trial.
But Michael B. Brown, who was appointed to represent Ziegler, requested a continuance of the hearing to look into charges filed in an amended court complaint on Oct. 16.
Both Smith and Ziegler face a charge of open murder, which is a felony that carries up to life in prison.
The additional charges include conspiracy to commit homicide-open murder torture, and conspiracy to commit torture, which carry a sentence of life or any number of years in prison. Other charges added include unlawful imprisonment and conspiracy to commit unlawful imprisonment, which are 15-year felonies and a $10,000 fine. The men also face a charge of third degree arson, a five-year felony. In addition, Smith faces a charge for being a third-degree habitual offender.
Kevin Hesselink, a Gaylord defense attorney hired to represent Smith, said he did not need more time to look into the additional charges. However, Hesselink said he would reserve the right to challenge the testimony of an inmate in the Crawford County jail, who testified at the hearing last week, to make it clear that Smith will receive his Sixth Amendment Constitutional right to fair jury trial. He may argue that testimony should not be considered because Hesselink has not been given the opportunity to cross examine the inmate.
Brown asked for the continuance to particularly address the conspiracy charges brought against Ziegler.
“I think there is potentially a close call to at least one of those conspiracy counts,” Brown said.
Chief Crawford County Probate and District Court Judge Monte J. Burmeister granted the request, but stressed that testimony and evidence included in the hearing last week could not be addressed further.
“It will be limited in scope to those additional charges,” Burmeister said.
The probable cause hearing will continue at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 9.
At the hearing last week, Koch and the defense attorneys stipulated to the introduction of 29 exhibits, which included the autopsy which indicated Everson died from blunt force trauma.
Detective Sgt. Ryan Swope, from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, said Ziegler asked to talk with him two times after his arrest.
Swope said Ziegler and Smith were drinking in a pick-up truck following a day of scrapping metal on July 2. Ziegler was sitting in the driver’s seat, and turned his head when he heard a stick crack. He was then punched by Everson in the face below his right eye.
Everson retreated into his house. He later returned from the home, yelling derogatory remarks at Smith and ended up spilling beer in his lap, which set Smith off, Swope testified.
As Everson was attempting to go back into his house, Smith grabbed him by the hair and pulled him off his porch steps. Smith then started beating him with his hands and fists, Swope testified.
Ziegler told Swope that Smith asked him to grab Everson by the legs and load him into the back of pick-up. Smith said they were going to set Everson on fire or dispose of his body in a lake, Swope testified.
As Smith drove the pick-up away from the home, Everson regained consciousness and was able to get out of the truck.
As Everson was trying to escape back into his home, Smith grabbed him by the hair and started assaulting him for a second time, Swope testified.
Swope said Ziegler told him he only punched Everson in the head once as he was placed in the bed of the pick-up a second time.
Swope said that the men drove to a remote area about three miles from Everson’s home. Swope testified that Zieger told him Smith tried to light a piece of clothing on fire in a camper at the site where scrap metal was stored. The fire did not ignite.
Ziegler told Swope that Smith used a two-by-four board to block the door of the camper and confine Everson inside.
Ziegler told Swope that Smith retrieved something from the back of the truck and went back to the remote area. Ziegler said Smith returned 15 minutes later.
“He said it was taken care of and not to talk about it,” Swope testified.
Detective Sgt. Jamie Voss, from the Gaylord Post of the Michigan State Police, was asked to help locate the suspects after Everson’s body was found by family members. He said part of the initial investigation included verifying checks issued to Smith for scrap metal turned in to A&L Iron and Metal in Gaylord were cashed at the Wal-Mart in Gaylord and a credit union in Boyne City.
Voss was dispatched downstate to attempt to locate Smith and Ziegler. Voss said uniformed Michigan State Troopers pulled a vehicle over Smith was riding in while on an expressway. He said Smith sat in the grass along the freeway after he refused to talk with police and asked for an attorney to be present. Smith was arrested a short time later based on the ongoing investigation in Crawford County.
Voss said Ziegler was arrested at Smith’s home. He added that Smith’s truck was tucked away in a wooded area behind the home.
Voss said he observed what appeared to a bloody fingerprint on the driver’s side visor in the truck. Voss also said there were sheet metal screws kept in the arm rest location of the truck.
Voss said he located what appeared to be blood in the back of the truck along with a hammer, a felling ax, and a small baseball bat among scrap metal.
Sarah Forman, a forensics scientist from Michigan State Police Forensics lab based in Grayling, said 22 swabs of potential blood samples were taken from the camper. She added that luminal testing, which can detect the presence of blood, was completed at Everson’s home and at the site of the camper.
Forman said a screw was found in Everson’s hair as she observed his body and collected evidence at the crime scene.
Jennifer Patchin, a forensics scientist from Michigan State Police Forensics lab in Grayling, said blood samples and a lens from Everson’s eye glasses, a hearing aid and shoe collected outside of Everson’s home were sent to for DNA testing. The results of the testing, which are done the Michigan State Police Forensics lab in Grand Rapids, are still pending.
Patchin said forensics analysts are limited in the amount of samples submitted for DNA analysis as part of an initial investigation.
Anthony Bentley, the inmate in the Crawford County Jail, said Smith began talking with him about his case when he was brought to the jail.
“That story has changed over time,” Bentley said.
Bentley pled to a charge of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine on Sept. 10. He has agreed to testify in the trial based on what Smith has told him. In exchange for the testimony, Bentley faces a cap of four years in prison, instead of life because he is a habitual offender.
Bentley has also agreed to testify in another pending murder trial, which is unrelated to charges Smith and Ziegler are facing.
Bentley testified that he was not acting an agent of the prosecution and was not asked to illicit information from fellow inmates. He specifically said he did not seek facts regarding the case against Smith.
“I was forced to be housed with both of them,” Bentley said of the two separate inmates facing murder charges. “All day every day that’s what Matt talked about.”
Both Koch and Swope said they did not direct Bentley’s actions in the jail at the hearing last week.
“What happens in the jail happens in jail,” Swope testified. “I can’t control that.”
Ziegler’s mother, Stacy, testified that Smith told her to provide an alias for himself if she were pulled over for speeding while on a trip to pick her daughter from a Lansing airport.
Stacy testified that her son and Smith were at her home for the Fourth of July holiday because Dylan’s birthday is on July 6.
During their time there, Stacy said she observed Smith carry a bundle of clothing-like material into her back yard and light it on fire in a fire pit. She yelled at Smith to put out the fire since the flames were so high they might have ignited overhead wires.
“I saw him put gas into the fire pit and he threw the bundle that he had in his hand,” Stacey said regarding the items place in the fire pit.
Both men were denied bond due to the seriousness of the offense and the violent nature of the crime.