Prison term in murder case stands
MENOMINEE — A Menominee Township man who was sentenced to up to 50 years in prison for murdering his former girlfriend in 2015 will remain in prison after losing his second attempt at an appeal earlier this month.
Attorneys for Gregory S. Ihander — who is now age 53 and lodged in the Chippewa Correctional Facility — have never argued against the second-degree murder conviction that sent him to prison in 2017 for killing Jolene Eichhorn. Instead, the appeals have focused on challenging the sentence itself, with the ultimate goal of having Ihander resentenced for the crime.
Ihander was sentenced to 40 to 50 years imprisonment after Eichhorn’s body was discovered in the trunk of a car at the Cedar River Marina on Sept. 19, 2015. The investigation led police to Ihander’s home, where Eichhorn had been on the afternoon of her murder. When officers arrived at the home, they discovered a garbage bag filled with bloody rags and kitchen items in Ihander’s bath tub. He was found guilty by jury in February of 2017.
An appeal of the case was submitted in May of the same year. That appeal argued the trial jury was not properly sworn in, that a statement used in court violated his privilege against self-incrimination because testimony given by Menominee County Sheriff’s deputy included a statement Ihander made before he had been advised of his Miranda rights, that the scoring used in sentencing was inappropriate, and that resentencing should be done by a different judge due to a grievance Ihander had filed against Judge Mary Barglind.
In January, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled against the appeal. It determined the jury had been sworn in properly; that the statement made by the deputy was restated later in court when a recording taken after Ihander was advised of his Miranda Rights was played — negating the argument the testimony had altered the course of the trial; and that there was no reason to resentence or use a judge other than Barglind.
The question of the scoring used to determine the length of sentencing was not considered in the January ruling, as Ihander’s legal counsel did not present adequate information to argue for or against the scoring. The second appeal, argued virtually on Sept. 3 of this year, readdressed the scoring issue.
The first claim in the appeal was that a prior record variable was improperly scored because it was based on a misdemeanor offense from Wisconsin. Katherine Simmons, who represented Ihander in the call, said the Disorderly Conduct – Domestic Related charge could not be accurately determined to be against a person. In Michigan, disorderly conduct charges are considered against the public order and by definition are not crimes against a person.
“We don’t have any factual information about what actually occurred in that offense to determine whether it should be considered a crime against a person or not,” Simmons told the appeals panel.
However, the court disagreed, outlining in its ruling that Wisconsin statutes allow for “domestic abuse surcharges” to be added to disorderly conduct charges and are analogous to domestic violence charges under Michigan law. The ruling also states that in addition to pleading guilty to the Disorderly Conduct – Domestic Related charge in February of 1992, Ihander had pleaded guilty to Battery – Domestic Abuse Related in March of 1990.
Simmons also argued the charges may not be usable because it is unknown if Ihander was represented in court. That issue was quickly quashed by the court, which said asking Ihander should be easy enough to do and that the issue should have been addressed much earlier in the process.
On another scoring issue, Simmons argued the court had improperly scored an “offense variable” in the case, which hinged on the exploitation of a vulnerable victim. She told the appeals panel it was theoretically possible Ihander had stabbed upwards rather than downwards, and that Eichhorn’s nearly-nearly severed fingers could have been the result of her grabbing the knife rather than defending herself with a raised hand. If that were the case, Simmons argued, the difference in size between Ihander and Eichhorn would not have been used to his advantage and would not have constituted her being “vulnerable” or “exploited.”
“I really struggle with this offense variable more than any others because there’s so much that needs to be done and there’s not enough out there to help us determine what really is vulnerable, and you know, what is exploitation. They just say ‘Oh, he was taller, coming down,’ you know, ‘five points,’ ‘ten points,’ whatever it is,'” she said.
Again, the panel disagreed, stating the law specified instances when “the offender exploited a victim by his or her difference in size or strength or both” and that the trial court properly considered the evidence and drew a rational conclusion.
“It can’t get much more straight forward than this,” said Assistant Attorney General Daniel Ping, who represented the State of Michigan during the hearing. “I would just push back a little bit against defense council’s repeated suggestion that the judge was guessing about this or that. These are inferences made by a judge that sat through the trial and those are factual findings reviewed for clear error.”
Because the appeals court ruled against both claims, Ihander’s current sentencing of 40 to 50 years in prison stands.