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Sentencing delayed 2nd time in sodomy case

Becky Vargo • Jul 17, 2018 at 9:00 AM

An “error in procedure” has opened the door to a potentially lighter prison sentence for a man who admitted to sodomizing an Ottawa County girl several years ago.

Because of that, Hastings resident Adam Harvey Burns, 25, was allowed to withdraw his plea four months after being sent to prison for a minimum of 15 years.

In the original agreement between the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office and the defense, Burns pleaded guilty but mentally ill to kidnapping and third-degree criminal sexual conduct in order to avoid a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison for first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Both sides agreed to a 15-year minimum, and Ottawa County Circuit Judge Jon Hulsing ordered Burns to serve 15-40 years in prison when he sentenced the man one year ago today.

At the time, attorney Tom Smith was defending Burns.

The prosecuting attorney for the case was Jennifer Kuiper. She has since left the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office and works as a defense lawyer for a private firm.

Burns’ appeal process started not long after his commitment to the Michigan Department of Corrections.

The reason for the plea withdrawal was the age of the defendant at the time of the crime.

Appeals attorney Chris Smith (no relation to Tom Smith) noted in a November 2017 brief that Burns was only 16 at the time of the incident, thus he was never subject to the 25-year mandatory minimum for the criminal sexual conduct charge. The law reads that a person must be age 17 or older to be sentenced to the 25-year minimum.

“Plea withdrawal is required because the record indicates that (the) defendant pled with an exaggerated belief in the benefits of his plea and that nothing was done by the court, the prosecutor or his counsel to correct his misapprehension,” the brief reads.

“I think everyone just kind of missed it, unfortunately,” said Jake Jenison, the current prosecuting attorney on the case.

Jenison said Monday’s sentencing hearing was adjourned to make sure the guideline range was appropriate.

The incident 

Although the girl’s mother filed an inappropriate touching complaint when the incident happened seven years ago, no criminal case was filed against Burns. 

The incident came to light in December 2015, when the girl’s father and stepmother discovered social media comments about it shortly after the routine evening confiscation of the girl’s cellphone. 

“I’m sorry you were raped, you need to tell a parent,” was the comment they found. The girl’s stepmother said she scrolled through the messages to the first one that said, in part, “I was raped ...”

The girl was talking to a friend about something that happened when she was about 5. An ensuing investigation by the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office led to Burns’ arrest. 

Although Burns was a juvenile at the time of the incident, which occurred in Hudsonville on or about June 24, 2009, he was charged as an adult, Kuiper said.

Effect on victim

After the June 2017 plea, Kuiper said it was important to settle the case because of the effect the delays were having on the victim.

“This gives her some safety,” Kuiper said at the time.

The girl’s stepmother said the mistake has cost the girl and her family dearly, sending the now 14-year-old girl into a depressive and suicidal state, and causing her to lose everything she gained in a year and a half of counseling.

Although sentencing was delayed again, the stepmother read a lengthy statement, noting that information has come out that Burns assaulted four children when he was 14 and several more after the incident with her daughter.

“We beg you, your honor,” she said to Hulsing, “please protect the children this time.”

The woman also read a statement from her stepdaughter, part of which said: “It was hard telling the people who gave me life that I didn’t want it anymore.”

The girl’s statement noted that she continuously has flashbacks and struggles with trust, and was cutting herself to ease anxiety.

The girl’s statement also said: “No matter how many years Adam Burns gets, I will always have the worst punishment.”

A new sentence date for Burns was set for July 30.

Following is the statement read in Ottawa County Circuit Court on Monday by the victim’s stepmother:

“I would never wish our story on any other family. No one can understand what it is like to read the words "I was raped, but I think that I may still be a virgin". I can't tell you how many times I read those words that night. I believed that I had to have read them wrong. I had to be misunderstanding the type. I sat for hours, trying to process in my own head before I dared to wake up her father and read those horrible words to him. His reaction was similar. The look of confusion, the begging for misunderstanding, the disbelief, our words can only start to explain. This story starts way back on December 30th 2015.

How do you wake your child up and ask about rape? How do you sit quietly while she is questioned over and over, put through exams by doctors, counselors, prosecutors, both within and outside of the SARC team? How do you remain strong while your world crumbles and the very essence of childhood is stolen from your child? You don't. You can't. Worse than even those things, how do you explain to your child that you will have to have her face the person who sexually assaulted her when she is terrified of him and truly believes that he will carry through the promise of harming her if anyone found what he did to her? Not only has she had to face him once, she has been forced to relive her nightmare caused by Adam Burns over and over and over again, and we have been unable to protect her from that.

This has dragged on for almost 3 years now. The prosecuting team would prepare her and she would finally feel brave enough to face the person who did this to her, only to hear that it had been delayed over and over again. We explained how the system works and that they wanted to make sure that every 'T' was crossed and every 'I' dotted, but you can only promise her it will end so many times before she starts to shut down. No one prepared us for night after night of tears because she sees him attacking her when she closes her eyes. No one warned us that flashbacks would occur from the littlest triggers. Her most recent flashback was June 28th. She begged to go to her counselor that day because that flashback left her shaking for hours.

We got discharged from Children's Assessment Center because this case has dragged on so long and their funds are limited. We tried going for a while without a counselor, but we watched her spiral down further into despair and fear. We now pay a large sum out of pocket for what insurance doesn't cover for a private counselor. Our insurance limits us to 20 visits. What happens then? Does insurance feel that she should be over it by then? Should the trauma and emotional scars that Adam Burns has caused be healed? We have been told that she will need to work on processing this for years. Because he raped our daughter, she will have trust issues in relationships that will require counseling, she will have intimacy issues when the time comes because this animal ruined any possible image of a healthy sexual relationship. The PTSD, Anxiety and Moderate Depression that she has been diagnosed with as a result of the sexual assault at Adam Burns' hands has often manifested itself physically as severe stomachaches. Each time a trial date would get closer, the stomach aches would get more and more severe. Many days, she wouldn't be able to stand up straight. Then each time, the trial dates would get pushed back. Relief would wash over her only to amp up again as soon as a new trial date would be announced. She missed a massive amount of school. Because of all the missed school, she has become frustrated and now hates school because she doesn't understand what is going on because of missing so much time and being so far behind. The damage that Adam Burns has caused eventually lead to her no longer being able to function in a traditional classroom so she now completes classes online so that she remains protected in her home. He has robbed her of normal childhood and teenage social interactions because she has so many trust issues.

We were losing our child. We were watching her slip away. She wanted to be brave and testify. She knew that her story needed to be heard. She wanted to make sure that no other child could be hurt in the way she was hurting. Imagine our anger when we found out he had already been charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct before our case even came into existence! Because of the discovery that he had already assaulted 4 children, Her trial date got pushed back once again to get more information. Now his total of assaulted children is 20 total (4 in the previous case and the 16 that were discovered with our case).How were we supposed to lose our child by having her testify when the system didn't protect her from him after he had already violated four other children? How in the hell do you tell a child that the system knew that Adam Burns was a monster and noone protected her or the other children?? Her father and I, along with her birth mother decided that we weren't willing to lose our child anymore. We asked the Prosecutor's office to do anything they needed to do to make it so we could protect her from seeing him in court, even if that meant accepting a lighter sentence. We were afraid that by making her testify, we would push her to the point that we would never get her back. This is our second trial, our second chance at a sentencing, we beg you Your Honor, please protect the children this time.

The stress and anxiety of all of this has led to suicidal thoughts, close attempts at overdose and severe episodes of self-harm by cutting deep cuts into her arm and thigh which have left horrible scars, as well as social isolation. The triggers are many. Things like smells, faces, barns or sheds, driving through Hudsonville, wearing a swimsuit, as well as many other triggers can set her off into an anxiety attack. We have no warning of the anxiety attacks caused by the actions of Adam Burns. We don't know how bad each anxiety attack will be. We just hold her and hope that she comes back each time from the black hole that anxiety has created for her. Anxiety. A deep black hole that comes to welcome her back so willingly each time.

As explained to us by her counselor, K now lives at a heightened stress level from the years of shouldering his threats to harm her if she ever told anyone, added to the fact that he brutally sodomized our baby, and the stress the past 3 years had caused her. How is a counselor supposed to fix that in 20 visits? She has told us it may take years to undo the damage caused by Adam Burns. Her stress level starts out at a 6 out of 10. Because of that stress level, K isn't able to process things in a "If I do this, then this will happen" as other 13 year olds do. Her mind just goes to fight or flight immediately instead of being able to just get stressed. Recently while she was visiting her mother's, something triggered her and out of fear and feeling that she needed to immediately protect herself and escape her own mind, K broke into a trailer of her friend while they were on vacation. She wasn't able to rationalize a better way to protect herself at the moment. Adam Burns has stolen her ability to rationalize like a normal person. Because of what has become our own fight, her birth mother has now relinquished all custody to her Father and I because she doesn't have the financial means or the ability to miss the days that are required by this new event that would never have happened if Adam Burns hadn't brutally raped our child. He has stolen a Mother's ability to have custody and her mother's ability to provide because she has already used all her sick days on this horrific rollercoaster that could have been prevented had the courts ruled justly when he first assaulted 4 children. This event happened at the hands of a monster because the courts did not protect her.

This financially affects our family's future as well. My husband has a brain injury and an autoimmune disorder that prevents him from being able to work, which leaves me as the income for our household, which directly supports K. I used to moonlight as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. I was removed from call rotation once her assault was made known in December 2015. I will not be able to go back into call rotation until 2 years after this sentencing has occurred. I averaged 3 cases a week. A SANE gets paid $100 per case, so monthly, our family is missing out on $1200 a month. That equals $43,280 to date. We will miss out on another $28,800 until I am able to take call again. That totals $72,080 as a direct monetary loss because of what Adam Burns did to our child, not even including the days of work that were missed from my regular Nursing job because of appointments with doctors, nurses, counseling appointments, court dates, and meetings with the prosecuting team over and over again. Again, this all could have been prevented had the court ruled justly in his prior sexual assault case.

We would pay any sum of money to get our child back. Our amazing, bright eyed, free spirited child who loved to talk to people just to learn one new fact about them. Our kind hearted, generous child who loved to volunteer at Festival and with organizations for other ethnicities just to meet strangers, make them her friends and learn about the way otgers live. Our fearless child who would make friends with anyone at the beach and declare them her "new best friend". Instead, we will hold our child through her panic and anxiety attacks, we will understand when she can't make eye contact with someone because they "look like him", or when she can't look out the window of the car because the sheds in the country remind her of where she was sodomized. My husband and I will continue to quick grab eachother’s hands in those moments and fight back tears, we will continue to quickly change the subject in attempts to prevent her from having an anxiety attack. We will continue to pay out of pocket for counseling in hopes that we may someday see a flash of our child who was stolen away from us. We will continue to lose income because he was allowed his freedom to rape more children, while her freedom has been stolen from her.

We know that our child was not alone in this. We know that there were more kids involved in this present case. We know that there were more kids in the previous case. I don't know all of the circumstances regarding the previous case, but I know that you have a chance to do the right thing this time and make sure that this can NOT happen again. Please have compassion for our lost child, and the other 15 children, one of whom committed suicide after being raped by Adam Burns, and the families in our case by deciding a longer sentence is mandatory so that future children will be protected from this monster known as Adam Burns. Please help us make sure that no parent has to endure our story as their own and that he is never able to steal a child's future again. We are asking for a sentence of 20 years, a sentence that would require 1 year in prison for each child that he assaulted. That isnt too much to ask your honor, considering it will take each child MUCH longer than 1 year to begin healing from the assaults that Adam Burns forced upon them. We ask that you use your authority to speak up on behalf of all of our children to send a message that they will remain protected from Adam Burns.”

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