Judge rejects juvenile sentence for I-75 rock throwing suspects
(7/23/2019) – Four of five teens accused in the deadly I-75 rock throwing incident nearly two years ago are possibly are heading to prison after the judge rejected a juvenile sentence.
Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Farah rejected a motion to send Trevor Gray, Mark Sekelsky, Alexzander Miller and Mikadyn Payne of Clio to a juvenile detention center.
That means all four will go to prison, head to trial or seek a new deal for sentencing. They have until Aug. 20 to decide whether to withdraw their guilty pleas to manslaughter.
If they keep their guilty pleas to manslaughter, the four suspects could receive credit for 21 months they’ve spent in jail since the deadly case in October 2017. State sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of 29 months in prison, so they could be set free in February or March.
The ruling against a juvenile sentence came after a months-long hearing that included testimony from victim Kenneth White’s family, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services experts, psychologists and Department of Corrections officials.
The four suspects all were minors when they threw rocks off the Dodge Road overpass onto the southbound lanes of I-75. One of the rocks that the teens threw crashed through the windshield of a work van, hitting White of Mt. Morris in the head and causing his death.
It was part of a game they called “Overpassing,” which they told the judge they played often. Farah expressed outrage at the crime and the lack of remorse they teens showed on SnapChat in the hours after the incident.
Teresa Simpson, who is White's mother, said the decision against a juvenile sentence is the justice her son deserves.
"I'm very pleased with it. My prayers were answered. Kenneth's prayers were answered," Simpson said. "I'm ecstatic over the decision that was made today. It's what I wanted. It's what we all wanted for him."
Defense attorneys asked Farah to sentence Gray, Sekelsky, Miller and Payne to a juvenile detention center for the next years of their lives. While there, they could have been required to complete rehabilitation and obtain their GED.
Farah also could have kept track of the teens until they turn 21. But he decided that sentence was not severe enough based on the crime and behavior after it.
Defense attorney Frank Manley, who is representing Sekelsky, said there were no winners or losers with Farah's ruling. He said everyone loses no matter the outcome of the case.
"You have a person whose life taken. Now we have four young boys whose lives may be taken," Manley said. "So to sit here and say this is somehow a win for one side or the other, it's not. It's very sad all across the board."
Defense attorney Mike Manley, who is representing Payne, said Farah's decision sends the case "back to the drawing board." The teens all have to discuss their options with defense attorneys over the next month.
He laid out the options of:
-- Keeping their guilty plea to manslaughter and accept an adult sentence, which likely means several months in prison.
-- Withdrawing their pleas and head to trial on the original charge of second-degree murder.
-- Renegotiating a plea agreement with Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.
"We do have separation of powers. We worked out a deal with the prosecutor's office -- the executive branch. The judicial branch didn't go for it," Manley said. "That doesn't mean we can't go back to the prosecutor and have him exercise his good judgment."
He believes the decision of how to proceed with the case heads back to Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.
"Mr. Leyton has some power. He's a very powerful man, he's a very smart man when it comes to these types of decisions and I think the door would be open for a potential continued negotiations," Manley said.
The fifth suspect, 19-year-old Kyle Anger, was over 18 when the crime happened, so he will be sentenced to prison at a later date. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.