On Monday November 23, a man’s body was found in his own burning home in Romulus; he was pronounced dead at the scene. The man was 91-year-old Paul Monchnik, a retired television repairman. According to a news report at the Detroit Free Press, authorities aren’t certain whether Monchnik died due to the fire, or the beating he apparently took before the house was set ablaze. When his body was discovered, Monchnik was not only badly burned, but had suffered a serious head injury as well.
A Detroit teen, 17-year-old George Stewart, has been arrested in the incident and faces charges of first-degree murder, felony murder, and arson. His probable cause hearing is scheduled for December 3, and a preliminary exam has been set for December 10.
Stewart’s grandfather, George Stewart Jr., turned his grandson in to police for questioning, however he said that he hoped and prayed the younger Stewart had nothing to do with the murder. Monchnik was the elder Stewart’s next door neighbor. The grandfather said that until about four days prior to the fire and beating, his grandson had lived in Romulus as well.
Police believe the 17-year-old burglarized Monchnik’s home, then set it on fire to burn the evidence and cover his tracks. A person who they believe to be Stewart was captured on surveillance cameras at a nearby gas station purchasing gasoline; the individual was driving the victim’s minivan at the time.
Dennis Ferguson and other neighbors in the area are baffled by the crime; Ferguson told reporters for Fox 2 that the 17-year-old suspect and his grandfather would help Monchnik cut his grass on occasion.
Criminal defense attorneys know that there are many cases that don’t seem to make much sense. Now, a teenager is facing the most serious criminal charges a person can face – first-degree murder. Felony murder and arson are also extremely serious allegations, leaving those found guilty facing decades or even life behind bars. While the crime in this case is certainly horrific, it is also difficult to imagine a young man who isn’t even out of his teens spending the rest of his life in prison.
No one knows for certain if Stewart is guilty other than himself. All defendants are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, the state will have to prove every element of the crime in order for the defendant to be found guilty. The fact that someone police “believe” was Stewart was seen driving Monchnik’s vehicle and purchasing gas at a nearby gas station is not concrete proof or hard evidence.
Regardless, anyone who is facing criminal charges as serious as murder or arson must work with a capable and aggressive Michigan criminal defense lawyer. No matter how heinous the crime, those accused must have their legal rights protected and be provided legal guidance and support to ensure a fair trial, and the best possible outcome.