CASSOPOLIS—Prison, not a football field, is where a Dowagiac teenager is headed after he was sentenced Friday in Cass County Circuit Court in connection with the April 4 robbery of a Pizza Hut delivery driver.
Michael Smith, 18, who according to his attorney, Dale Blunier, and Judge Michael Dodge had played high school football in Chicago and might have landed a college scholarship, was handed an eight- to 20-year term. He also was ordered to make $1,120 restitution.
Blunier referred to Smith’s predicament as “a tragic case” and blamed the U-turn on his path toward a possible football career on “one stupid mistake.” His client had just one prior conviction, a marijuana offense, he said.
Smith, the first of several alleged conspirators to turn himself in, apologized and accepted responsibility for his part of the crime. Cass Prosecutor Victor Fitz said Smith “provided the muscle” in the robbery and, as a result, put himself in “life offense territory.”
“It’s negative, negative, negative,” he said.
Dodge said Smith and his co-conspirators placed an $82.14 order with Pizza Hut and asked that it be delivered to what turned out to be an abandoned house on Budlow Street in Dowagiac. When the driver arrived, Smith and a another man lured him inside on the pretense of obtaining money to pay him, the judge said.
Dodge said Smith then grabbed the victim and held him while another man threatened him with a pellet gun. After the victim’s pockets were searched, the robbers fled in the driver’s vehicle, taking his iPhone and wallet containing $100.
“The only good thing was he (the driver) wasn’t hurt,” Dodge said.
Also sentenced to prison Friday was a homeless man with a lengthy record that included a pair of bank robbery convictions. Dodge sentenced Rockie Strickling, 46, to 23 months to five years for stealing a van from the Riverfront Square parking lot in downtown Niles on June 22 and driving it to the Cassopolis area, where police arrested him for refusing to leave his sister’s residence.
Strickland claimed he “borrowed” the vehicle and told Dodge he couldn’t afford to pay court costs, fines and make the required $125 restitution. His comments came after Fitz offered a suggestion.
“Here’s a novel idea. Just obey the law,” he said.
Ordered to a year in jail, with 76 days credit, was Ernest Albright, 52, of Niles, who admitted to helping an accomplice dismantle a stolen combine for scrap metal the two sold to a recycling business.
Albright also was ordered to pay a share of $8,000 restitution.
Staff writer Lou Mumford: