2017-08-09 / Front Page

Attorneys: Zemmer 3 won’t be in school buildings this fall

BY ANDREW DIETDERICH
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER — The three teens accused of conspiring to commit murder at a Lapeer school won’t be in a “brick-and-mortar” educational setting when school starts in a few weeks, according to attorneys representing the teens.

“Under the circumstances, unfortunately they won’t be going back to brick-and-mortar school, at least not in the fall,” said attorney Bernard Jocuns adding that “alternatives” for their education, such as homeschooling, are being explored.

The three involved in the case are a 15-year-old from Mayfield Township, a 14-yearold from Deerfield Township, and a 15-year-old from Metamora Township.

Jocuns represents the Mayfield teen. Michael Manley, the attorney representing the Metamora teen, agreed with Jocuns’s statement.

“The ultimate goal is to keep these kids in school,” Manley said.

Matthew Norwood, representing the Deerfield teen, said he understood how others view the situation.

“Even though my client was not going to shoot up the school, we understand the school’s concerns in not having my client back,” he said. “At this point we are bound by the bond, which does not allow him to go to any brick-and-mortar school.”

Each individual is charged as an adult and with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit terrorism and two counts of using a computer to commit a crime. The Deerfield teen faces a third count of using a computer to commit a crime and a count of false report of terrorism. Each faces up to life in prison, if convicted.

The case started in family court until, through their respective attorneys, the three individuals rejected plea deals offered by the Lapeer County prosecuting attorney’s office. They were then charged as adults.

The case was bound over to Lapeer County Circuit Court on May 11 by Lapeer County District Court Judge Laura Cheger Barnard, following a preliminary exam.

Under the separate plea deals offered to each respective teen involved, the case would be remanded to family/ juvenile court.

In exchange for entering guilty pleas as charged, the teens could, at the judge’s discretion, be sentenced as adults and placed on probation “upon the terms and conditions it considers appropriate, including any disposition available under the Probate Code.”

The deal also calls for each individual to be convicted as an adult for the charge of conspiracy to commit murder and one of the counts of using a computer to commit a crime. The remaining counts for each individual would be juvenile adjudications.

If each individual successfully completes and is discharged from probation, they will separately be allowed to petition the court to withdraw the guilty pleas entered for the charges related to conspiracy to commit murder and terrorism, and one of the counts of using a computer to commit a crime. The remaining count of using a computer to commit a crime would remain a juvenile adjudication.

Since The County Press first reported details of the plea offerings, a flurry of motions have been filed by attorneys in the last several weeks.

Those filings include motions to quash (overturn) the May 11 ruling by Barnard that she found probable cause to bind the case over to circuit court for trial, along with motions to suppress evidence, and suppress statements.

The motions are all set to be heard by Lapeer County Circuit Court Judge Nick Holowka on Aug. 28 — the same day school begins for Lapeer Community Schools, according to its website.

As of Monday, Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Sharkey said he is “opposed” to the teens being in any schools at this time.

Among the bond conditions, each defendant is under house arrest and banned from entering any Lapeer Community Schools property.

Sharkey also noted another bond condition that states they each defendant “shall not possess or use devices that can be connected to the Internet, including smartphones, tablets, computers, or gaming systems like Xbox or PlayStation.

A status conference was held late last week to discuss the matter of education for the co-defendants.

“Time is running out, the school year is starting, literally, back-to-school is right now,” Jocuns said. “They have a fundamental right to an education … unfortunately, the only thing that really seems to be an alternative is homeschool, as much as I’m not a fan of that.”

The County Press sought comment from Lapeer Community Schools on the matter of whether the Zemmer 3 should be allowed back into a LCS building. Jared Field, director of communications, responded, “I don’t expect we will make any public statements until there is a resolution in this case.”

Field continued, “We have a meeting with Mr. Sharkey (Tuesday). Hopefully we will get a better sense of the timeline moving forward. We said from the beginning that we wanted to respect the process and not comment publicly while the case is ongoing. That said, I will know more (Tuesday).”

Jocuns said there wasn’t a solution that came out of the status conference last week. If an agreement were to be made, he said, a stipulation order would be required.

“I’m hopeful that we can come to some sort of agreement,” he said, adding he expects it will “be addressed in court within the next couple of weeks.”

Jocuns said some sort of concession on the part of Sharkey may be needed if homeschooling is an option, specifically with regard to using a computer connected to the Internet that would strictly be used for educational purposes.

Norwood said “we are working with the prosecutor to come up with an education plan that would most likely include an online component.”

“In a perfect world, it would be a computer that only has access to school coursework, and that would be supervised,” Norwood said.

Manley said he and the father of the Metamora teen are working on a proposal to continue the teen’s education into the new school year. Manley said he didn’t want to provide details.

“Once (the proposal) is approved by the judge, we hope to have him in school, but I don’t want to get into the particulars of where that’s going to be,” he said.

When asked if the Metamora teen’s schooling would take place this fall outside of a “brick-and-mortar” setting, Manley said “I think that’s safe to say, given the bond conditions, that it would be a homeschooling situation.”

Concurrently, he stressed the importance of the teens involved in the legal matter to continue with their education.

“It’s important for society that they continue in school. These are kids,” Manley said. “I think we’ve lost site of the fact that no matter what the allegations are, these are young kids and we have a moral responsibility to put them in a position where they’re going to be healthy, safe, and educated because no matter what happens in this case, they’re going to be part of our community.”

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