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'It’s time to hold Mr. Popejoy accountable'

Matt DeYoung • Nov 5, 2018 at 3:30 PM

Wendell Popejoy stood in silence, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, his hands and ankles shackled, as he was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Popejoy was found guilty of first-degree murder Oct. 15 for the shooting death of his neighbor, Sheila Bonge.

Bonge’s sister, Val Flaherty, shared a victim statement shortly before the sentence was read Monday at the Ottawa County Courthouse in Grand Haven.

“I want Wendell to know a few things he took from Sheila’s family,” Flaherty said as she fought back tears. “We will never see her smile or hear her laugh. What you didn’t take is our memories. We no longer have holidays or special occasions with her. Sheila leaves behind three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She has one on the way that she will never see.

“Sheila was a very selfless person,” Flaherty continued. “She would just give, give, give — whether it was — clothes, toys, her time, her baked goods. She would do anything for anyone. Our loss cannot be put in words. No amount of punishment can take away our pain of losing a loved one far too soon because of a senseless act. In society, we cannot act on emotion. We must act responsibly and control ourselves.”

Ottawa County Prosecuting Attorney Ron Frantz said it’s “impossible for me to imagine a more premeditated crime than the one that occurred here.”

“The defendant, in an effort to deal with what he described as a neighborhood nuisance, took away a sister, a mother, a great-grandmother, an aunt and a fiancée from a loving and large family,” Frantz continued. “The court saw them gather here every day throughout the trial. We believe it’s time to hold Mr. Popejoy accountable.”

Defense attorney Jeffrey Kortes reiterated that, while Popejoy takes responsibility for his actions, he didn’t feel the verdict of premeditated first-degree murder was appropriate.

“In Mr. Popejoy’s own words during his confession was that this happened as a spur of the moment decision,” Kortes said. “It wasn’t thought out, wasn’t given any consideration before he acted. Wendell has expressed to me on several occasions, if he could go back and this could not happen, it wouldn’t happen. We do not believe it was premeditated, but he does take full responsibility for his actions.”

When the judge asked him if he had any comments before sentencing, Popejoy answered in a barely audible voice, “No, your honor.”

At that point, Judge Karen Miedema read the sentence: 24 months in prison for a felony firearms charge, with credit for 311 days already served; and an additional sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the first-degree murder conviction.

After Popejoy was led away, Bonge’s family gathered outside the courtroom, where Flaherty reiterated that her sister was a “wonderful person.”

“There’s just no words for this, no reason for what he did,” she said. “I believe he planned this. ... This is something Wendell’s going to live with the rest of his life.”

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