The Michigan Court of Appeals recently gave its opinion on two major cases from Charlevoix County, affirming both lower court findings.
The decisions, dated May 22, involve Matthew Mark Fruge, who was found guilty but mentally ill of voluntary manslaughter for stabbing his friend to death; and, Frederick William Cords Jr., who was convicted of illegally obtaining between $50,000 and $100,000 from a vulnerable adult.
Fruge was sentenced defendant to 10 to 15 years in prison.
He appealed the conviction, challenging the “reasonableness of his sentence.”
According to court records, Fruge has a history of substance abuse and mental illness.
His conviction arises from the unprovoked stabbing death of his long-time friend Jacob Conklin.
Fruge stabbed Conklin 10 times with an 8-inch kitchen knife, damaging Conklin’s carotid arteries, left jugular vein, left subclavian artery, lungs, esophagus, trachea, and the arch of his aorta.
Fruge was charged with open murder.
The jury was instructed on first-degree murder, and the lesser offenses of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. The court also instructed the jury on mental illness and legal insanity.
The jury found defendant guilty but mentally ill of voluntary manslaughter. Fruge argues that the trial court abused its discretion by departing from the sentencing guidelines range of 43 to 86 months and sentencing him to a term of 10 to 15 years in prison.
Specifically, defendant argues that the sentence is disproportionate and unreasonable because “the extent of the departure [was not] proportional to the offense and the offender.”
The trial court’s remarks at sentencing indicate that the court considered the seriousness of the offense, including the unprovoked and brutal nature of the offense.
The court also highlighted the relationship between defendant and the victim, the lack of motive for the crime, and the fact that defendant had no prior felony convictions but had eight prior misdemeanors.
The court also found that defendant suffered from mental illness, that his psychotic episodes appeared to be intertwined with his history of substance abuse, that defendant posed a threat to society as long as he continued to abuse substances, and that incarceration would enable defendant to obtain the treatment he needed “to resurrect [himself] from this situation.”
The trial court also considered mitigating factors associated with defendant’s personal background, including his military experience and his community and family support.
The trial court further found that defendant had the capacity to be a good man when he was “clean and sober.”
The trial court articulated adequate reasons for departing from the guidelines (something that defendant does not contest), and sufficiently justified the particular sentence imposed by explaining the extent of the departure from the guidelines range.
Justices concluded the trial court sufficiently explained why the sentence it imposed was more proportionate than a different sentence would have been.
According to the court of appeals, although the trial court could have provided greater explanation for this particular sentence, the appeals justices cannot say the sentence was the result of an abuse of discretion.
In the Cords case, where he was sentenced as a fourth-offense habitual offender, a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years was imposed.
The victim, Merlin Dwaine Roberts, was in his eighties when he met Cords in 2012.
The two became friends, and Cords eventually began to ask Roberts for money, claiming that it was to keep his electricity, heat, or cellular telephone running, or for other various reasons.
From 2012 to 2014, Roberts gifted and loaned Cords substantial sums of money using several methods of transfer. Cords claimed he would pay Roberts back, but largely failed to do so.
At the time, Roberts lived alone. Roberts was able to drive and cook for himself and led a “fairly independent” lifestyle. He had an ATM card and knew how to use it with the associated PIN number.
On occasion, Roberts would write checks to “cash” when he needed money for personal items. In the pertinent period, 20 checks were made out to “cash,” totaling $8,360.
Four of the checks were for withdrawals in excess of $1,000.
Receipts for funds withdrawn without a check over the course of Roberts’s relationship with Cords totaled $8,465. Roberts also made out a number of large checks directly to Cords, totaling $37,100.
Additional checks were written to Cords’ son in the amount of $12,500.
More than once, defendant would come to Roberts’s house at 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., banging on the door or window to request that they go to an ATM.
When Roberts would let defendant into the house, defendant would not leave until Roberts turned over his debit card, despite any objections.
Roberts came into an inheritance of $82,172.42 and within one month, his account balance was reduced to $4.65 as a result of several ATM withdrawals, with multiple ATM withdrawals sometimes being made in the same day.
Cords also asked Roberts to accompany him to Kalkaska to purchase a truck. Cords falsely identified Roberts as his grandfather when speaking to the dealer.
Roberts provided a $300 down payment and obtained a loan for $17,000 in his own name to facilitate payment for the truck.
Cords ultimately made only two payments on the loan.
There were a number of other incidents as well.
Cords first argues that he was denied his constitutional right to due process because the jury rendered a guilty verdict without sufficient evidence that Roberts was a “vulnerable adult.”
The appeals court disagreed.
Cords also argues that, even if Roberts was vulnerable when the services specialist examined him, there was no evidence to demonstrate that Roberts was vulnerable for the entire time that defendant knew him.
The services specialist did not believe, however, that his vulnerability had had a “sudden onset.”
“Logical and reasonable inferences existed to allow the jury to conclude that Roberts was ‘vulnerable,’ and so defendant cannot claim that the evidence was insufficient in this regard,” the justices stated.
Cords next argues that evidence was insufficient for the jury to determine that defendant knew or should have known that Roberts was vulnerable.
The court found Cords’ behavior suggests he knew Roberts was susceptible to acting against his own financial interests.
Cords also asserts there was insufficient evidence for the jury to determine that he defrauded Roberts of $50,000 or more but less than $100,000.
Accounting for the checks made payable to the defendant and his son, Cords received $49,600 from Roberts.
While Cords’ son was not charged in this case, the jury could have reasonably and logically inferred that defendant induced Roberts to write checks to his son in furtherance of the crime.
Cords also made a number of other claims including that the prosecutor called him a “bad man” a “predator” and a “con man” but the justices found them without merit and that resentencing is not warranted.