Stiff sentences get a thumbs up in several court cases


By Julie Riddle

Local judges scrutinized for stiff sentences passed muster in a series of recent decisions by the state’s higher courts.

Judges in Jackson and Lenawee counties were among dozens whose sentences got a second look after the Michigan Supreme Court rejected a longstanding state rule that protected certain sentences from being overturned on appeal.

A Court of Appeals decision last week in a Lenawee County case upheld a tough sentence for a man who sold heroin at an Adrian restaurant to two men who overdosed on it, thinking it was cocaine.

Similar recent decisions okayed lengthy Jackson County sentences for men who, separately, broke into numerous homes, ran a drug house, and sexually assaulted a child.

The state uses sentencing guidelines to suggest a range of possible sentence lengths, based on the specifics of a crime and a defendant’s criminal history. Court rules have long dictated that, as long as judges sentenced within those guidelines, a higher court can’t disagree with that sentence.

In a ruling last year, titled People v. Posey, the Supreme Court said judges’ decisions shouldn’t get a free pass just because they stay within guidelines. The ruling gave numerous people around the state another shot at arguing for a lower sentence.

Michigan judges are expected to set aside anger, compassion, or personal bias to impose sentences individualized to the specific case of each person who stands before them. Guidelines notwithstanding, the punishment doled out by a sentencing judge “must be measured according to the offense and the offender,” the high court said.


In Lenawee County, Demetrius Fitzgerald Jenkins said his sentence of 18 to 80 years unfairly punished him for selling heroin to four men who believed it was cocaine.
Two of the men died from the drug, and two fell ill but survived.

Judge Anna Marie Anzalone in the 39th Circuit Court sentenced Jenkins, now 34, to at least 225 months, the top end of the guidelines.

In his request for a lower sentence, Jenkins said his crime of selling the drug that killed two people was “not serious in the scheme of offenses of this nature.”

Reviewing the case again in light of the Posey ruling, the appeals judges last week waived aside that argument, as well as Jenkins’ assertion that he has potential for rehabilitation because he has a high school diploma. Anzalone’s top-of-guidelines sentence can stay put, they said.

Jenkins is currently housed at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee with an earliest release date of March 2038.


The Posey ruling also impacted Gregory John Schulz, found guilty of numerous home invasions in Jackson, Clinton, and Ionia counties in 2018. Schulz admitted that he snorted heroin daily during that time and used the home invasions to fund his addiction.

Police connected him to the thefts via a GPS tether Schulz wore during the break-ins while released on bond awaiting trial on a bank robbery charge.

In May 2020, Judge John McBain in the 4th Circuit Court sentenced Schulz, now 36, to 19 to 40 years for second-degree home invasion and breaking and entering, the maximum suggested under sentencing guidelines. McBain ignored a lower recommendation from the prosecuting attorney and the 575 days Schulz had already spent in jail, and his sentence was out of line by as much as six years with what judges from the other counties imposed for the same crimes, according to Schulz’s appeal.

One victim told the judge she forgave Schulz and asked that he receive the lightest possible sentence. McBain, instead, suggested he wished Schulz would withdraw his guilty plea so the judge could sentence him even more harshly.

In November, with Posey under its belt, the court refused to hear Schulz’s argument and let McBain’s sentence stand.

In 2022, the Court of Appeals chastised McBain for oversentencing a woman convicted of second-degree murder in defiance of higher court orders. He has garnered national media attention by berating defendants and implying he wished them dead.


When police raided Christopher Canada’s Jackson County home in December 2019, they found seven grams of meth. Canada, 39, pleaded guilty to possession with intent to deliver and maintaining a drug house, where he sold drugs to support his children and feed his addiction, he told police.

In February 2022, Judge Susan Jordan sentenced him to 51 months, the maximum allowed by guidelines. That was too much, according to the language of Canada’s appeal, which stated that “Mr. Canada’s role was more dangerous to himself than society.”

Canada’s drug habit started when he was 12, progressing from marijuana to cocaine and meth as a teenager, under the influence of his friends, and then to heroin. He attempted numerous outpatient programs, completing some of them and getting kicked out of at least one because of a health problem, according to his request for resentencing.

Research indicates that a longer prison stay does not reduce the chance a drug offender will offend again. Conversely, a shorter sentence would get Canada more quickly to services that might help him escape his long-time addiction, the request said.

“Some punishment may be warranted,” the document read. “This does not mean a 51-month prison sentence is the answer while he is healing.”

Last week, the Court of Appeals ordered the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office to weigh in on whether the higher court should revisit Canada’s sentence. He is currently housed at the Muskegon Correctional Facility with an earliest release date of April 2026.


The Posey decision also sparked an appeal from Michael Jay Bernard, currently serving 18 years at the St. Louis Correctional Facility for engaging in an inappropriate online relationship with a Jackson County child.

Bernard, 29, pleaded no contest to a first-degree criminal sexual conduct charge after the U.S. Marshals Service tracked him to Maine, where he was arrested on a lobster boat in 2021.

As part of his plea deal, the prosecutor’s office agreed to waive the mandatory 25-year minimum sentence for a first-degree sex crime.

Judge Susan Jordan sentenced Bernard to a minimum of 225 months’ incarceration, at the very high end of the recommended 135 to 225 months.

The sexual conduct charge against Bernard “cannot be considered the worst offense and him the worst offender” to justify his sentencing at the top of the guidelines, Bernard’s attorney said in the appeal.

Jordan should have spent more time explaining why she thought it appropriate for a man who admitted to preying on a child for sexual purposes to spend 18-plus years in prison, the appeal said.

Neither the Court of Appeals nor the Supreme Court agreed to hear Bernard’s request for a new sentencing.

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