Man gets 9-30 years in sodomy case resentence

Becky Vargo • Sep 6, 2018 at 9:00 AM

Family members cried out in grief and rage after the man who admitted sodomizing their daughter received a lighter sentence than expected in Ottawa County Circuit Court.

Adam Harvey Burns, 25, was ordered Tuesday to serve between nine and 30 years in prison. Once released from prison, the Hastings man will have to register as a sex offender and will be on lifetime GPS monitoring. 

Judge Jon Hulsing said the evidence provided for two prior victims was not strong enough to justify a higher sentence of 12 years, which was agreed upon by the two sides in the judge’s chambers moments before the sentencing.

“You guys failed us,” one man yelled before leaving the courtroom after the hearing.

The resentencing was already delayed a couple of times to make sure the guideline sentencing range was appropriate.

This was the second time Burns faced sentencing for a 2009 incident in which he admitted sodomizing a girl, who was age 5-6 at the time, at a manufactured housing community in Hudsonville.

On June 8, 2017, Burns pleaded guilty but mentally ill to charges of 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. He was charged with luring the child into a shed, where he molested her.

Both sides agreed to a 15-year minimum, and Hulsing ordered Burns to serve 15-40 years in prison when he sentenced him on July 17, 2017.

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 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 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,” Smith said in the brief.

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

Attorney Tom Smith (no relation to Chris Smith) was defending Burns last year. The prosecuting attorney for the case was Jennifer Kuiper, who has since left the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office and works as a defense lawyer for a private firm.

The incident

Although the girl’s mother filed an inappropriate touching complaint when the incident happened several 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 normal evening confiscation of the girl’s cellphone.

“I’m sorry you were raped — you need to tell a parent,” was one comment.

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.

Burns was a juvenile at the time of the incident, but was charged as an adult, Kuiper said.

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

“This gives her some safety,” Kuiper said.

The girl’s stepmother said the legal mistake has sent the now-14-year-old girl into a depressive and suicidal state, and caused 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, 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.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, the girl’s stepmother said they would be there when Burns comes up for parole. 

“I’m grateful my daughter was strong enough to stand up against him,” the woman said. “She’s a hero.” 

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