Original Case Details
A Detroit man was convicted back in 2008 of second-degree murder after he paid someone $20 to burn down an abandoned house which resulted in the death of a firefighter who went to attempt to extinguish the fire. The man who actually set the fire cut a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to second degree murder and testify against the Detroit man. Due to his cooperation, the man was sentenced to 17 to 30 years as part of his plea agreement. He testified that the man wanted the house burned down to collect insurance money and escape from a mortgage that he was behind on.
The man was later sentenced by Wayne County Circuit Judge Margaret Van Houten to a minimum sentence of 37 years, which far exceeded the minimum sentence set by the Michigan Criminal Sentencing Guidelines manual. The man’s sentencing guidelines were from 19 to 31 years for the conviction. The sentencing guidelines are meant to ensure that people are sentenced consistently across the state no matter if the case happened in a small town or a big city. If a judge wants to exceed or go below the sentencing guidelines, then the judge has to state on the record why he or she is doing so. If the judge goes outside the sentencing guidelines and does not give a proper explanation and finding on the record as to why he or she is going outside the guidelines, then that case can be ripe for an appeal. That is exactly what has happened in this case. The Michigan Court of Appeals has acknowledged the tragic nature of this case, but also stated that the Wayne County judge did not properly explain why the man deserved such a significant sentence that exceeded his guidelines.