Defendant’s father convicted of child’s death in 1995 court case

Jerry Jay Munger Jr.

Jerry Jay Munger Jr.

ESCANABA — A 22-year-old Escanaba man is currently in the Delta County Jail after being accused of physically harming his 8-month-old son. Jerry Jay Munger III faces up to life in prison if convicted of first-degree child abuse. (See related story.) Twenty-two years ago, Munger’s father — Jerry Jay Munger Jr. — was convicted at age 22 of manslaughter and second-degree child abuse in the 1994 death of his 2-and-a half-month-old daughter, Katelynn.

According to Daily Press news articles published during the eight-day trial in November 1995, the cause of Katelynn’s death on Oct. 30, 1994 was initially attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS.

Two autopsies later showed the infant died of multiple fractured and broken ribs that were in various stages of healing at the time of her death. These results prompted criminal charges to be authorized against Munger Jr., who was the only person to care for her during the last hours of her life.

Delta County Assistant Prosecutor Karen Bahrman’s medical expert testified the baby died due to 14 ribs that were broken only by violent, homicidal means.

“I do feel this is a homicide,” Dr. Stephen Cohle, a forensic pathologist who conducted the second autopsy, testified during the 1995 trial, adding, “There is no other cause of death that can be considered.”

Defense Attorney Martin Fittante’s medical expert, Dr. Marvin Miller, contended the child suffered from the condition known as “temporary brittle bone disease” and said her ribs were fractured during household accidents and normal handling.

Katelynn’s mother, Nicole Munger, testified she was 14 years old when she became pregnant with her daughter. She and Munger Jr. later married in Alabama because Michigan law prohibits minors that young to marry.

Prior to the couple’s marriage, Munger Jr. was charged with criminal sexual conduct for having sexual relations with Nicole, who could not testify against him after she became his wife. The charge was later reduced to contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Munger Jr. took the stand in his own defense during his 1995 trial and testified he had epilepsy, which caused brief but intense muscle spasms. He told the court he loved and cared for his daughter, had nothing to do with her death, and never struck her or harmed her in any way.

Nicole was pregnant during the trial and gave birth to Munger the 3rd three weeks after jurors declared Munger Jr. guilty of manslaughter and second-degree child abuse.

While Munger Jr. was lodged in the Delta County Jail, awaiting sentencing, Bahrman petitioned probate court to prohibit him from having contact with his newborn son. The court’s juvenile officer granted the petition, not allowing contact even through the glass of a jail visitation room.

Probate Court Judge Robert Goebel Jr. later reviewed the ruling and rescinded the motion due to an error, leaving it up to the sheriff’s department to authorize the visitation. Hearing no reason to not allow the father to see his son, Sheriff Gary Carlson allowed the no-contact visit behind security glass.

On Dec. 28, 1995, Circuit Court Judge Stephen Davis sentenced Munger Jr. to 10 to 15 years in prison on the manslaughter conviction and two to four years in prison on the child abuse felony.

Shortly after, Munger Jr. filed an appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals claiming trial evidence was insufficient, the court should not have allowed testimony on his prior acts of behavior, and the sentencing guideline scoring was incorrect. The appeals court reaffirmed the local court’s decision and denied the appeal on June 27, 1997.

While current law enforcement, court personnel, and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are aware of Munger Jr.’s court conviction in 1995, Delta County Prosecutor Philip Strom said Wednesday that the elder Munger’s case is not part of any allegations against Munger the 3rd other than it’s part of his past.

“It’s something that is unique but it does not support any allegations against the current defendant,” added Strom, noting the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

As county prosecutor, Strom authorized the first-degree child abuse criminal charge against Munger the 3rd. He supports a DHHS petition requesting probate court terminate the parental rights of the child’s father and mother, Melisah Marie Jenkins.

— — —

Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net

COMMENTS