State Briefs

Associated Press • Jun 21, 2018 at 9:00 AM

Michigan court ends conflict over juvenile life sentences

DETROIT (AP) — Judges, not juries, have the sole power to decide whether someone under 18 gets life in prison without parole, the Michigan Supreme Court said Wednesday.

The 4-2 decision settles a conflict at the state appeals court and clears the way for more than 200 new sentencing hearings for so-called juvenile lifers that have been on hold for more than a year.

The Supreme Court said there are no constitutional violations in allowing a judge to order a no-parole sentence for a teen. Chief Justice Stephen Markman, writing for the majority, said a trial judge doesn't need to find any particular fact before choosing the highest punishment.

The case landed at the Supreme Court after the Michigan appeals court in 2015 said a no-parole sentence for a minor would fit only if a jury finds that the crime is the result of "irreparable corruption," something so heinous that parole shouldn't apply.

Markman, however, said the interpretation was wrong.

"If the trial court simply finds that there are no mitigating circumstances, it can sentence a juvenile to life without parole," he wrote.

Separately, many Michigan juvenile lifers who are serving no-parole sentences are eligible for a new hearing because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision. But those hearings were suspended while the state Supreme Court grappled with two cases that led to a decision Wednesday.

Woman whose son was killed enters pleas to perjury, abuse

GRAND RAPIDS (AP) — A West Michigan woman faces prison time after pleading guilty to perjury related to the investigation into the beating death of her 4-year-old son and child abuse.

Sonja Hernandez entered the pleas this week in Kent County Circuit Court in Grand Rapids just before her trial was supposed to start. Sentencing is scheduled for July 19 and an agreement calls for prosecutors to recommend 29 and 57 months behind bars.

Her boyfriend, Elis Ortiz-Nieves, was sentenced in January to life in prison without parole after being convicted of felony murder and first-degree child abuse in the June 2017 death of Giovanni Mejias in Gaines Township.

An autopsy showed the boy died from internal bleeding. He also suffered seven blows to his head, and cigarettes were extinguished on his body.

City applies mosquito control briquettes to catch basins

WARREN (AP) — Mosquito control briquettes have been applied to nearly 18,000 catch basins in a Detroit suburb.

Warren officials say it's the first application of the mosquito repellants this year by public works employees. Another application is scheduled for August.

Mosquitoes can breed in catch basins, tire swings, buckets and anything else that holds standing water.

Warren Mayor James Fouts said the control measures are aimed at protecting residents from West Nile virus and other illnesses that can be contracted from mosquitoes and ticks.

Health officials say most people infected with West Nile virus don't develop symptoms. Sometimes, though, a mild illness results 1-2 weeks after exposure. Those symptoms can include fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph nodes.

2 sentenced to prison for deaths of 3 kids in Michigan fire

FLINT (AP) — Two people blamed for the deaths of three children in a Flint house fire have each been sentenced to 18-36 years in prison.

The mother of two of the children, Erica Starkey, and her acquaintance, Rodney King Jr., were sentenced Wednesday. Police say King set Starkey's house on fire after she left on an early-morning trip to buy crack cocaine in June 2016. Both offered apologies during sentencing.

Starkey pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and other charges related to the fire while King pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and arson.

Four-year-old Kayden Hull died in a bedroom that was locked from the outside with a padlock. The other victims were 13-year-old Onyah Starkey and a friend, 14-year-old Brianna Beaushaw.

Health officials urge lead tests near Michigan factory

PORT HURON (AP) — Health officials are recommending that some people living near a Michigan factory get tested for lead exposure.

The St. Clair County Health Department says a state investigation into elevated airborne lead levels near Mueller Brass in Port Huron found the toxic metal in some soil samples in the area surrounding the factory.

The Associated Press left a message Wednesday seeking comment from Mueller Brass.

Dr. Annette Mercatante, health department director, said preliminary testing by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality shows elevated levels in some yards in the area 55 miles northeast of Detroit.

DEQ spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said in an email the agency has seen increasing concentrations in the air at an area monitoring station over the past year.

Scientists study fish in waterways around Pictured Rocks

LANSING (AP) — Scientists are studying water bodies in the area of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula to determine what kind of fish live there.

Fisheries biologist Cory Kovacs of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said the sampling began in 2017 when staffers sampled Chapel Creek, Hurricane River, Miner's River, Rhody Creek, Towes Creek and Mosquito River.

This year, they'll head to Grand Sable Lake, Chapel Lake, Beaver Lake, Sevenmile Creek and Lowney Creek.

Kovacs said the sampling helps the DNR inform the public about fish in the waterways and make decisions about managing them.

Crews will use netting gear to capture fish in lakes and electrofishing gear in streams.

The DNR will also work with National Park Service staffers on taking stream water temperatures.

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