Likely Light Sentences, No More Charges Frustrate Hartland Man Who Tracked Stolen Stuffed Alligator
Prosecutor says recommendations in June theft fit state law and there was not enough evidence to pursue additional cases.
A Hartland man who garnered headlines this summer for tracking three men who stole a stuffed alligator from his Deerfield Township property says he's upset it appears none will be in jail for more than a year and that there have been no further charges.
Two of the three men accused — Douglas Earl Ward, 55, of Linden and John Earl Sanborn, 54, of Harrison — are scheduled to be sentenced Thursday each on a charge of breaking and entering, with Sanborn expected to receive as much as a year in jail and Ward six-and-half months, under plea agreements reached in September.
Jeremy Swanson, who gathered evidence to help police arrest the trio after they took the gator mudbogging, said the sentences are too light and won't deter the men from future crimes.
"It's not a good lesson for kids," he said. "The judicial system didn't work for us. I'm seeing that. I want to do right by it, but it's very frustrating."
A third defendant, Roy Allen Griffith, would receive time served in the Livingston County Jail after already serving two months there, under an agreement with prosecutors, according to a report in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus. Sentencing is Dec. 8.
Livingston County Prosecutor David Morse said he understands Swanson's frustration and agrees that the punishments should be more severe, but added the sentences fit within state guidelines.
Morse said the theory is to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison, but the reality is in Michigan it means only 20 percent of convicted felons go to prison, which is less than the 40 percent national average.
"We're always chafing at the guidelines," Morse said. "It's simply the way our system is designed."
In addition, Swanson said there were four previous break-ins at his property within the two weeks before the gator theft, resulting in $24,000 in lost items, including family bicycles and bows and tools. He passed on evidence including hair, cigar butts and footprints to authorities and believed that would tie the men to those crimes, especially with possible DNA, but no other charges have been filed even though police believed there was a connection.
"It's so much hardship I had to go through," said Swanson, who was changing jobs and moving at the same time.
Morse said it's possible the men were involved in the break-ins, but he added the evidence turned over wasn't enough to pursue charges.
"That's his suspicion," Morse said. "Whatever he forwarded to police made no connection."
Hartland Patch called the attorneys for the three men and two were not immediately available for comment while a third, Carolyn Henry, who represents Sanborn, declined to comment.