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Tag Archive | "Kent County Prosecutor"

Man pleads guilty in wife’s murder

By Judy Reed

James Michael Pagel, 55, pled guilty Wednesday to second-degree murder in the 2006 murder of his wife, Renee Beth Pagel. She was brutally murdered in August 2006, in her Courtland Township home, while recovering from donating a kidney to the father of one of her students.

Renee Pagel and her children. Photo from the Justice for Renee Pagel Facebook page.

It was almost 14 years that ago that the Kent County Sheriffs’ Office responded to 9050 13 Mile Road NE in Courtland Township on a report of a deceased person. On August 5, 2006 first responders located Renee Beth Pagel deceased with obvious trauma to her body. There were no signs of forced entry into the home and valuables in plain sight were left behind. The medical examiner’s office completed an autopsy and ruled the death a homicide.

Through the course of the investigation, detectives learned Renee Pagel was nearing the end of a contentious divorce with her estranged husband Michael Pagel.  Following Renee’s death, the initial investigation had run its course with no charges filed and was eventually classified as a cold case. The couple’s three children went to live with their father.

Michael James Pagel

The case was turned over to a cold case review team in Lansing in the fall of 2018. The review team made up of Michigan prosecutors looked at the case file for the purpose of providing feedback on possible investigative leads that might help the investigation. Recent interviews and investigations provided valuable evidence that resulted in the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office charging Michael Pagel, 55, with the murder of his estranged wife. With the assistance of the Michigan State Police, Michael Pagel was taken into custody in the Bay City area in February 2020 and transported back to Kent County to face charges related to the murder of his wife.

A dual statement from Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker and Kent County Sheriff Michelle Lajoye-Young gave some details on the plea. “It is gratifying to see him finally accept some responsibility for her murder for which he has been a suspect since the very beginning,” it reads. “The children of Michael and Renee were consulted before considering a plea offer, and we decided on this course of action based on their response and approval. A trial involving their father in the murder of their mother would be extraordinarily difficult for this family. The ability to hold him accountable for his actions and save the kids from the trauma of such a trial played a major role in this decision.  In this agreement Mr. Pagel pled guilty to one count of second-degree murder with an agreement of a 25-year minimum sentence.  The judge will have the ability to set the maximum sentence.”

According to Prosecutor Becker, Pagel said he hired his brother to kill his wife, and that he provided a map and floorplan to allow him to do it. But authorities don’t yet know if he’s telling the truth.

“We were aware of the possibility that Michael Pagel may implicate others in the actual murder when he gave a factual basis for his plea. At this time, it is important to note that we are not aware of any independent evidence that can corroborate the statements Mr. Pagel made today. However, we have a duty to investigate his claims and will do so.  If Mr. Pagel wants to provide his version of events to the investigative team, they will listen to him, and follow up if he has any evidence to support his claim. This office and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department are committed to holding any person involved in Renee’s murder responsible for their actions. The statement of a defendant alone, with nothing more to support his version of events, is not enough by itself to charge anyone, with any crime.  Without any supporting evidence, it is merely a statement of a man perhaps trying to save face in admitting his guilt in the murder of his wife and should be treated as such.

“This office, with the Sheriff’s Department, has been committed to finding the truth since the beginning of the investigation. This commitment has not changed with this plea.  We appreciate the hard work and dedication of the detectives and crime scene techs at the Sheriff’s Department, the prosecutors assigned to the case, the Michigan State Police crime lab for their help, and especially Renee’s family for their strength and understanding though this entire process.  The investigation will continue and we will do everything we can to prove or disprove what Mr. Pagel stated here today. We want nothing more than to provide the truth of what happened to Renee, for her family and the community.” 

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No charges to be filed in Grattan shooting

By Judy Reed

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker issued a statement this week saying that the homeowner who shot a man who was attacking him did so in self-defense and no charges will be filed against him. 

The Kent County Sheriff’s Office was called to the scene of the shooting in the 7300 block of Parle Avenue in Grattan Township about 1:32 a.m. August 12. Deputies arrived on scene and located two victims with gunshot wounds—one was lying on the ground outside with a gunshot to his arm; the other was inside with a gunshot to the abdomen. A jeep was parked out front and quite a few people were in the yard. Jacob Vanenk, a 22-year-old male from Lowell, was transported to the hospital with nonlife threatening injuries. The second victim, Robert Morgan, a 44-year-old male from Belding, was transported to the hospital where he later died from his injuries.

According to Becker, the incident started earlier in the evening. Morgan owned a vacant lot nearby that had a fire pit, and his 20-year-old son was having a bonfire and party there. Witnesses stated that Morgan had driven over there in his jeep, which was quite loud, and had been giving people at the bonfire rides in it until quite late, and was revving his engine and driving rapidly down the dirt roads of the neighborhood. A video clip shows that to be the case. Evidence showed that he had been drinking.

The woman who lived at the home where the shooting occurred noted that Morgan went by her home several times that night, “flying around the corner,” and sending dirt and rocks flying toward her home. Her husband and child were already sleeping. Morgan had returned to his home, so the woman went there and told him his driving was throwing rocks at her home and asked him to stop. He immediately became combative and called her “trailer trash b—“ and threatened to “F*# her up,” so she went home. As she was leaving, he told her he was going to follow her home but she didn’t believe him. Five minutes later he turned up in her yard with his jeep as she sat outside on her steps.

According to witnesses, Morgan went over to the bonfire right after the woman left his house and asked people to go with him to confront someone who had complained about his jeep being loud. At least two people said that Morgan told them he was going to “whoop some ass.” 

Morgan drove his jeep directly up to the front door and was no more than 10 feet away from it. Jacob Vanenk, Morgan’s nephew, said that his uncle began an argument with the lady who was sitting outside. Another witness said he was screaming in her face and the lady got upset and went inside.

The woman went in and woke up her husband, who had been asleep since 9 p.m. She told him about the man outside threatening to “whoop everyone’s ass.” He got up and went outside to see a jeep running in his front yard next to his porch, and three men standing in the yard, with the oldest one (Morgan) “freaking out.” The man was calling his wife names, and the husband told Morgan to settle down. He also told his mother, who was staying at the home, to call 911. Morgan then began threatening the husband, and moved toward the house, so the husband, who is an Army veteran and valid CPL holder, then went inside to get his .40 caliber handgun.

The man took the gun outside and told the three to leave or he would shoot them. Instead, Morgan called him a name, told him he wasn’t leaving, and then rushed him. The two fell into the house, with Morgan putting the man into a headlock while trying to grab the gun. The man’s wife jumped on top of Morgan, trying to get him off her husband. 

The man decided he had no other option except to shoot Morgan since his 9-year-old daughter was sleeping in another room and he was being attacked in his own home.

Vanenk said he went to the doorway to get his uncle off the man, then heard a gunshot and felt something on his arm and saw blood running down his left arm, where he had been shot. 

The autopsy showed that a single bullet had passed through Morgan’s abdomen, and then struck Vanenk. Morgan died a few hours later at Spectrum Health. The autopsy showed his blood alcohol level at .12.

“This was an incredible tragedy,” wrote Becker. “One person is dead, another, who from the evidence presented to this office, did nothing more than go with his uncle to the home, and who may have tried to stop his uncle…was shot in the arm. This is a lesson in what can happen when an individual consumes too much alcohol; under normal circumstances Mr. Morgan would most likely not have acted the way he did that night.” 

Becker said that Morgan’s outbursts and his rushing the man in his own home, gave the man little choice but to fire his weapon. “Under the circumstances in this case, his belief that he needed to use deadly force to protect himself and his family was both honest and reasonable. No charges will be issued in this matter.”

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Parents charged in baby’s death

Seth Michael Welch

Tatiana Elena Fusari

The parents of a 10-month-old child who died Thursday, August 2, in Solon Township have been charged with homicide-felony murder and first-degree child abuse.

Seth Michael Welch, 27, and Tatiana Elena Fusari, 27, found their infant daughter Mary unresponsive Thursday and called authorities at 12:06 p.m. to their home at 16509 Algoma Avenue, known by many in the community as Blackacre Farm. The baby was pronounced dead at the scene.

An officer at the scene reported that the baby’s eyes and cheeks were sunken into her head. 

Deputies executed a search warrant for evidence of child abuse/neglect causing the child’s death. The couple told police that they noticed their daughter’s skinny appearance the month prior. Fusari reportedly told police they did not seek medical help because they did not want Child Protective Services called, had a lack of faith and trust in medical services and cited religious reasons.

The parents were taken into custody August 3, after an autopsy revealed the cause of death was ruled as malnutrition/dehydration due to neglect on the part of the adult caregivers. The baby’s death was ruled a homicide, and the Kent County Prosecutor authorized charges on August 5. 

Welch and Fusari were arraigned on Monday, August 6. Bail was denied for both, and they have a probable cause hearing set for August 20 at 63rd District Court at 8:45 a.m.

The couple’s other two children were placed with family members.

The Kent County Sheriff’s Office said they had only responded to the home once before on a matter unrelated to child welfare. 

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call the Kent County Sheriff’s Office at 616-632-6357 or Silent Observer at 616-774-2345.


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Prosecutor renders opinion on incompatible offices

By Judy Reed

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker issued his opinion this week on whether Courtland Township trustee Matt McConnon can also serve on the Cedar Springs Board of Education. In his opinion, the offices do not conflict with each other.

McConnon was appointed by the Cedar Springs Board of Education to fill a vacant seat in January. The Post alerted both Board President Heidi Reed and then Supt. Laura VanDuyn to the possibility of an incompatible office, since there was a similar occurrence in 2010. The Post waited until mid-February for an answer, then went to the Sheriff Department and asked them to have the current prosecutor review the case.

McConnon is glad the waiting is over. “I’m just happy it’s been decided,” he told the Post. “I didn’t want it hanging out there.”

In the 2009-2010 case, Pamela Conley, who was on the BOE, was elected to the Cedar Springs City Council. Lawyers on both sides felt it was a conflict, and asked then Prosecutor William Forsyth to offer an opinion. He came back with the opinion that the offices were incompatible.

Forsyth said at the time, that the two entities had contracts and agreements, such as the city collecting the school taxes and then being reimbursed for them. He also noted that under the Revised School Code that the Superintendent could negotiate a reasonable expense for city services and that the board must then also vote to approve any agreement between the school and city.

The other thing Forsyth had cited was the case of school board elections. He said it was his understanding that the city conducted those elections. The school district was required at the time to reimburse city/townships for the cost of running those elections. (That’s because they were held in April and not during a regular election.)

In a nutshell, he felt those things—the collection of school taxes, needing to vote on it (he said not voting on it was a breach of duty) and the holding of elections for the school and reimbursement for it made the offices incompatible.

Becker saw it differently. He said that he saw no contracts between the school and Courtland Township. He said the only possible contractual relationship found was the Cedar Springs Schools Parks and Recreation. Both entities are members of the governing body, but they are partners and do not oppose each other.

Becker did not feel the collection of taxes and being reimbursed for them was incompatible because he could find no direct contract between the township and the school system. There is, however, a form and resolution that the school sends to the districts.

According to Dennis Bain, Director of Fiscal Services at Kent Intermediate School District, the school districts send a L4029 form to the townships and city, along with a board resolution, that tells the township how much they should levy in taxes on behalf of the school district. The township then collects the taxes, and directly pays the school district those taxes. However, when it comes to the township being paid for collecting the taxes, the KISD acts as an intermediary. The township bills KISD for their services of collecting the taxes, and the school pays KISD what is owed.

Baine did not know if it was done the same way in 2010 but he couldn’t imagine that it wasn’t. He also said he didn’t know of any other district in the state that did it differently.

What the Post was unable to find out was whether Courtland Township trustees vote on whether to collect or disburse the taxes. We did not receive a call or email back from them by press time.

Becker also did not feel that school elections were a problem. He said it was different than the Conley case, because in that case, Forsyth said that Cedar Springs ran the school elections, and in this case, Kent County does. “The Courtland Township clerk runs them, but the ultimate supervisor of those elections is Lisa Lyons, the Kent County Clerk. She is the school districts election coordinator under the law,” he told the Post in an email. “A trustee does not have any control or supervisory capacity over her. That is what would lead to a possible conflict.”

The Post looked back at the school elections in 2007 through 2010, and found that people were told to vote at their own township or city polling place, just as they are now, and Kent County listed all the candidates, so they may very well have been done exactly as they are now. The only difference is that since they are now held in November during a regular election, the school doesn’t have to reimburse individual townships or the city for them.

See Prosecutor Chris Becker’s opinion here: McConnon opinion. 

See Prosecutor William Forsyth’s opinion on the Conley case here: Conley letter.

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Admiral robber offered plea deal


By Judy Reed

Jacob Abraham Savickas

Jacob Savickas, 33, the man who robbed the Cedar Springs Admiral gas station on July 27 and a string of other businesses here in Michigan and Ohio (including two banks) in the days that followed, has been offered a deal by the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office.

According to Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, if Savickas accepts the deal, he will plead guilty to a bank robbery charge as a third-time offender and two other felony cases, which have yet to be decided. In exchange, prosecutors will dismiss all the other charges he faces in Kent County. The bank robbery charge involves the Independent Bank on Plainfield Ave, which he robbed on August 2.

Federal authorities have also agreed not to pursue charges for the bank robbery.

As of press time Wednesday, Savickas had not yet made a decision.

Savickas started his crime spree Wednesday, July 26, when he is suspected of an unarmed robbery of the J&H Mobil gas station at 4404 Clyde Park Ave., Wyoming. He then robbed the Admiral gas station on the corner of Main and Muskegon Street in Cedar Springs the next day, Thursday, July 27.

Police found him at the rest stop on US-131 near 10 Mile Rd., but after a brief foot chase, he got back into his car and sped away. Police pursued him, but terminated the chase on 10 Mile Rd. The Admiral clerk had reportedly told police that he had a small child with him.

Savickas drove to Indiana later that day, and is suspected of robbing two more gas stations that day in South Bend—the Marathon gas station on W. Western Ave, and Low Bob’s, 4505 N. Ameritech Dr.

The next day, Friday, July 28, Savickas is suspected of committing an unarmed bank robbery at the Beacon Credit Union, 820 North Broadway, in Peru, Indiana. On Tuesday, August 1, Savickas was back in Michigan, and is suspected of robbing the Next Door Food Store at 4616 Alpine Ave., N.W., where he struck the clerk with his vehicle. He is also suspected of robbing the Independent Bank, 3090 Plainfield Ave NE on Wednesday morning August 2.

Savickas was arrested at a Grand Rapids hotel on August 9 by the FBI Fugitive Task Force.

He is still lodged in the Kent County Correctional Facility on 10 charges in three different courts, including bank robbery, multiple counts of larceny from a person, fleeing and eluding a police officer, parole absconder, and being a habitual offender.

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Prosecutor upholds deputy’s decision in shooting

Jonathan David Sper (Facebook photo)

Jonathan David Sper (Facebook photo)

By Judy Reed

N-Shooting-pullquoteThe Kent County Prosecutor released his opinion Tuesday on whether a Kent County Sheriff Deputy acted reasonably in the January 24 shooting death of Jonathan David Sper, 30, in Algoma Township.

Based on all of the events that led up to the shooting, Becker feels that Deputy Jason Wiersma acted reasonably when he discharged his firearm, killing Sper. But using his gun was not Wiersma’s first attempt to subdue Sper; he had also used a taser, which had no effect.

Sper was released from the Kent County Correctional Facility on January 24, after having spent six days in jail for failing to pay for food he ordered at a Grand Rapids restaurant. He suffered from bipolar disorder and bipolar schizoaffective disorder, and had been trying to rehabilitate himself for the last 10 years.

Jonathan reportedly had a plane ticket to fly out to California later that night, and asked his roommate to drive him to his brother Jarred’s home on Summit Avenue in Algoma Township to drop off a box. They arrived at approximately 5:15 p.m., and were met by another brother, Stephen, who was staying at Jarred’s home. Jarred was in Florida at the time.

Stephen thought Jonathan was only dropping off a box, and not staying. The roommate thought he was dropping Jonathan off and that his brother would get him to the airport, so he drove away.

Stephen had a work conference call happening at 5:30 p.m., and Jonathan was not allowed at the home because he had become more and more unstable over the last 6-8 months. The two agreed that Jonathan would stay in the garage, since he wasn’t allowed in the home, and Stephen went in and got him a cup of coffee. When he brought it out, Jonathan was drinking one of the beers in the garage. When Stephen suggested he shouldn’t be drinking, Jonathan got belligerent with him. Stephen went inside and did his work conference call, which he cut short when he heard Jonathan ranting in the garage.

He tried several times to talk to Jonathan, but each time, he said Jonathan acted like he wanted to fight him. Stephen called his brother Jarred to find out what to do. He also called Jarred’s wife, Sara, who was due home with the children at 7 p.m. and told her not to come home. She suggested he call 911.

Before calling 911, Stephen went back into the garage to talk to him, and this time they struggled. Jonathan pushed past Stephen to get into the house, and Stephen pulled him back by the shoulders. During the struggle, Jonathan ripped Stephen’s coat nearly in half. Stephen managed to get back inside the house and call 911.

After he hung up, he realized that the keys to his brother’s truck had fallen out of his coat pocket during the struggle in the garage, and that there was a handgun in the console of the truck, which Jonathan would have access to. He called 911 to report that fact, and reiterated to them that he felt his brother was having a manic episode.

During that second call, Deputies John Tuinhoff and Jason Wiersma arrived on scene. Deputy Tuinhoff indicated that after listening next to the closed garage doors, he could hear keys jingling. So the two deputies entered the house from the front and spoke with Stephen, who told them that Jonathan had told him to get a gun and shoot him with it.

When the deputies approached Jonathan in the garage, he had nothing in his hands. Deputy Wiersma holstered his gun, and Tuinhoff had his taser pointed at him. Jonathan was mumbling to himself, appeared disoriented, and would not respond to verbal commands.

Jonathan walked toward the door of the home, and Deputy Wiersma asked him if was ok, and told him that he needed to check him for weapons. Deputy Tuinhoff said Jonathan began to swing his arms violently, beating Deputy Wiersma repeatedly on his head and body. Deputy Tuinhoff could not deploy his taser because of the struggle and instead tried to help physically restrain Jonathan.

But Jonathan was tall and quite strong, and the three of them stumbled towards the door to the house, with Jonathan still beating Deputy Wiersma, while trying to push him down the stairs. Deputy Tuinhoff tried to stop it, but the two went tumbling down 15 stairs to the basement. The fight continued at the bottom of the steps, and Wiersma deployed his taser at Jonathan, but it had no effect, most likely due to the clothing he was wearing.

Broken bottles and glass at the bottom of the basement steps may be the sharp object Jonathan Sper used to try to stab one of the deputies on the scene.

Broken bottles and glass at the bottom of the basement steps may be the sharp object Jonathan Sper used to try to stab one of the deputies on the scene.

During the struggle at the bottom of the steps, Jonathan went unsuccessfully for Deputy Wiersma’s duty belt, and then struck the deputy on the back of the head with some unknown hard object. Deputy Tuinhoff attempted to grab Jonathan’s arm, and Jonathan jumped up on boxes, then struck Tuinhoff on the top left side of the head with a hard object, stunning him. Jonathan then jumped on him and tried to grab his gun as well. He then slashed at the deputy with a sharp object across his chest while laughing. The deputy tried to protect himself with his hands, and then Jonathan ran up the steps.

Deputy Tuinhoff told Wiersma he had been hit with something sharp, possibly a knife. Wiersma ran up the steps, and then Tuinhoff told him it might be a broken bottle instead. Evidence found later showed broken bottles at the bottom of the steps and a broken coffee cup.

Wiersma said that they ran towards the doorway leading to the house, which he could see was open. He said that Jonathan was just inside the house and turned to look at him, and gave him a crazed smile. Wiersma was about eight feet away, and said Jonathan was holding a sharp object of some kind at waist level. He said he backed up slightly and drew his pistol, and told Jonathan to drop the weapon. “At this point I knew the suspect’s brother’s life was potentially now in danger as well because the suspect now had access to the home once again,” said Wiersma. He went on to say that the suspect did not drop the weapon, but reached over with his left hand and slammed the door closed.

Becker said that Deputy Wiersma now felt that Stephen was in immediate danger of being attacked by Jonathan. Jonathan had struck him with some weapon, had attempted to stab Deputy Tuinhoff with something, and had attacked his brother previously, which led them to be dispatched to the home. Deputy Wiersma indicated that what was going through his mind was that Jonathan was in “a manic state of mind, my knowledge that he had used drugs and alcohol, his previous statement about having his brother shoot him, and currently being still armed with a dangerous weapon and possibly a gun, I had no other option than shooting to stop the suspect.” After the suspect slammed the door, Wiersma immediately fired four shots through the door, three of which struck Jonathan, with two of them being fatal.

“Applying the law to the facts as they occurred in this incident, it is clear that Deputy Wiersma was justified in using deadly force in the defense of another person,” stated Becker.

He said it was not surprising that the two officers could not subdue Jonathan, since it took four officers to subdue him in an incident at his parents home in May 2016.

While Tuinhoff was stabbed with something sharp, and Wiersma believed Jonathan had a weapon while at the top of the steps, he did not. Right in the area where the shooting occurred, keys were found in some shoes. This may be what the deputy mistook for a sharp object. They also did not know if he had the gun. He did not. It was found in the console of the truck.

“Under the law, the fact that the deputy was wrong about Jonathan being armed does not impact the decision. Based on the evidence, when he acted, Deputy Wiersma honestly and reasonably believed that Stephen was in danger of being killed or seriously injured. Because his belief was honest and reasonable, Deputy Wiersma could, and did, act at once to defend Stephen,” wrote Becker.

Both officers were injured during the struggle. Deputy Wiersma had a cut on the back of his head and a red mark on the back of his head near his left ear. There were abrasions on his knuckles, a large bruise on the front and inner portion of his thigh, and contusion on his elbow. He was treated for a closed head injury. Deputy Tuinhoff, had cuts on his hand, as well as cuts on his left forearm and abrasions on his hairline. He was also treated for a closed head injury.

“There is no question that this incident is directly attributable to the fact that Jonathan had suffered from severe mental illness since the time he was 18 years of age,” noted Becker. “By all accounts, he was an intelligent, much loved son and brother, who would not engage in the sort of violent behavior he exhibited that night if he was not suffering from the effects of his severe mental illness combined with the consumption of alcohol. These manic episodes had occurred over Jonathan’s lifetime, he was impacted that night, and clearly was not in his correct state of mind when all of this occurred. This is a complete tragedy for everyone involved.”

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