Original Case Details
Linda Stermer, 55, of Van Buren County has spent eight years in prison after being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for her role in the death of her husband in a house fire. She has spent the past 18 months outside of prison however, after successfully appealing her conviction and getting a new trial granted by a federal District Court judge.
Stermer was found guilty of setting a house fire with her husband inside and hitting him with a van after he escaped the burning house. The prosecution said that she intentionally ran him over while the defense contended that it was accidental as it happened as she was trying to drive to a neighbor for help. She was convicted of felony murder and arson in 2010. It took the prosecution two years to charge Stermer after the death of her husband.
Where We Currently Stand
United States District Court Judge Arthur Tarnow ruled that Stermer’s defense counsel was ineffective due to major issues. Tarnow ruled that the prosecutor committed misconduct in his closing argument by stating that Stermer was a liar even though she had not testified. A prosecutor may not comment on a defendant’s statements unless they were in evidence as that would be constitutional violation. Judge Tarnow ruled that since defense counsel did not object to the prosecutor’s statements in closing, the defense attorney was constitutionally ineffective in defending Stermer. Also, the defense was also found constitutionally ineffective because they did not consult with a fire expert on this case even though the case centered around scientific issues that could have helped identify culpability. Jeff Getting, Stermer’s former defense attorney, is now the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor.
While waiting for the decision from Judge Tarnow, Stermer’s case was featured on CBS News 48 Hours. She appeared on the show and discussed the case at length, her relationship with her husband, and also discussed the 2007 fire that ended his life. It looks as if she will get another chance to defend herself in a second trial.
The Michigan Attorney General’s office appealed Judge Tarnow’s decision to the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and on May 15, 2020, Tarnow’s decision was upheld in a 2-1 vote in favor of Stermer. The case now can be appealed to a nine-member panel of appellate judges in the Sixth Circuit or can seek a hearing and decision from the United States Supreme Court. If all appeals are exhausted, or the Attorney General’s office abandons the appeal process, the case will go back to Van Buren County for further proceedings. Van Buren County Prosecutor Michael Bedford has made it clear that his office will not be dismissing the charges against Stermer and will go forward with another prosecution and trial if necessary. If that happens, Stermer will be facing another jury trial, this time with new counsel, and seemingly a new strategy. If during the appeal process, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals or the United States Supreme Court rule against Stermer and in favor of the state, Stermer’s conviction would be reentered and she would be taken back into custody and sent back to state prison. She is currently free and awaits the next move from the Michigan Attorney General and Van Buren County Prosecutor’s Office.
Any Further Questions?
If you or a loved one has been convicted of a crime and are looking to appeal your conviction or sentence, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. At Grabel & Associates, our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience in successfully defending criminal cases all over the state of Michigan. This experience extends not only to adult cases, but also to juvenile charges. We are not a general practice firm. We are a team of criminal defense attorneys; it’s all we do. We offer a FREE consultation to anyone with questions relating to a possible or existing criminal charge against them or a loved one. Feel free to contact us on our 24/7 defense line at 1-800-342-7896. You can also contact us online or come visit us at one of our three statewide locations. We can also come to you.