Why doesnt main stream media crucify this FATHER?
A Morenci man is headed to prison in the disappearance of his three young sons after entering into a surprise plea deal Thursday.
John Skelton pleaded no contest to charges of unlawful imprisonment, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Under a plea deal, charges of kidnapping -- punishable by up to life in prison -- were dismissed.
Some legal experts say prosecutors' decision to strike a deal is a prudent one, especially if murder charges could be on the horizon. If the case had gone to trial and Skelton -- whose young sons Andrew, Alexander and Tanner have been missing since late November -- had been acquitted of some or all of the charges, it could have been detrimental to any future case if the boys are found, dead or alive, experts say.
In a joint statement Thursday, the Lenawee County prosecutor and Morenci police chief said the plea deal doesn't interfere with the ongoing investigation.
"We believe the plea agreement in this case represents what a jury would likely have concluded based upon the facts and evidence as currently developed," the statement said.
Experts: Plea deal gives officials more time to build a case against Skelton
Prosecutors struck a plea deal with a Morenci father Thursday in the disappearance of his three young sons, but that agreement doesn't preclude murder charges.
Legal experts say it was a prudent decision -- by allowing John Skelton to plead no contest to unlawful imprisonment charges, he'll be sent to prison as law enforcement officials continue to build a murder case against him.
The Lenawee County prosecutor and Morenci police chief said in a statement Thursday that the agreement reflected what they believe a jury would have ultimately concluded. Under the plea deal, kidnapping and parental kidnapping charges were dropped.
The plea deal in this case comes in the wake of the national headline-grabbing case against Casey Anthony, the Florida woman acquitted of murder charges in the death of her 2-year-old daughter.
One expert said the Skelton case may have been even more difficult to prosecute than the Anthony case because the girl's body was found. Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton -- ages 9, 7 and 5, respectively -- disappeared while in the custody of their father over Thanksgiving. They haven't been seen since.
Wayne State University Law professor Peter Henning said it's difficult to say how an acquittal or conviction, particularly on the kidnapping charges, would have impacted any future charges against Skelton. Now, he said, the prosecutor won't have to worry about that as the homicide investigation continues.
"You live to fight another day," Henning said. "That's not a bad approach here."
During the hearing Thursday, Lenawee County Circuit Judge Margaret M.S. Noe read aloud from police reports.
Some of the details were familiar.
Skelton has told the news media, including the Free Press, that he gave his sons to members of an underground sanctuary group and doesn't know where they are. Skelton has said his children wouldn't be returned as long as he's in jail and as long as his ex-wife, Tanya Zuvers, has custody.
Skelton, who has said he does not want his sons in the custody of their mother, has said that he couldn't get the boys back from the people harboring them until he is released from jail. New details also emerged Thursday.
Noe said Skelton told investigators at one point that he wrapped each son in a blanket, gave each a stuffed animal, placed them in his van and drove them away.
Noe said Skelton reportedly took his sons' winter coats and toothbrushes to his aunt's home and told her he didn't need them anymore. Noe said Internet records show Skelton searched for information on how to break a neck about one week before the children went missing.
Noe said Skelton reportedly told investigators: "The children will hibernate until they graduate."
A jury, one expert said, may have found it difficult to convict Skelton on certain charges based on the circumstantial evidence.
"I wonder about the decision to plead him guilty here, rather than roll the dice on the part of the defense," said criminal defense attorney David Griem, a former state and federal prosecutor.
Skelton's attorney, John Glaser, declined to comment Thursday about his decision to take the plea agreement.
On the unlawful imprisonment charges, Skelton could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. He is to be sentenced Sept. 15.
If he had been convicted of kidnapping, Skelton could have faced life in prison.
But he also could have been acquitted.
Asked why the deal was made, Lenawee County Prosecutor Jonathan Poer said: "We had full conversations with the law enforcement and the family."
John Freeman, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor based in Troy, said the prosecutor has now left the door open to charges that could lead to a mandatory life sentence.
He speculates that if prosecutors thought they could prove murder, they would not be satisfied with a 15-year-sentence -- so they may have concluded that the strongest evidence they have is on the charge he pleaded to.
"They simply don't want to run the risk of letting somebody, who they believe may be responsible for the death of three young children, they just don't want to see him walk," Freeman said.
Poer's office and Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks released a joint statement, saying the plea agreement does not interfere with the ongoing investigation.
"We consider this just one more step toward everyone's goal of fully resolving this case," it reads.
A spokeswoman for the family of the boys' mother released a statement saying the family supports the decisions made by law enforcement.
"There is a sense of discouragement that John will not receive the sentence we believe he deserves," it reads. "However, our focus is still on Andrew, Alexander and Tanner, and this will not be over until the boys are home. We are grateful for the support of everyone and ask for your continued prayers."