Drake strikes plea deal in Cass girl’s case; faces 30 years in prison
By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
DOWAGIAC -- Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz, Lassen County, Calif., District Attorney Robert Burns and U.S. Attorney Margaret M. Chiara for the Western District of Michigan in Grand Rapids Thursday pronounced a "global resolution" of federal and state criminal charges against Terry Drake.
Drake, 56, of Middlebury, Ind., pleaded guilty to a superseding indictment charging Mann Act and weapons offenses before U.S. District Judge Richard A. Enslen in Kalamazoo.
Drake was convicted June 12 of two counts of transportation of a minor across state lines with the intent to engage in sexual activity, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment; a fine of not more than $250,000; a period of supervised release of three years; and a mandatory $100 special assessment.
Because of the defendant's prior sex offense conviction, involving the kidnapping, rape and murder of an Indiana woman, Linda Kearschner, in 1977, he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years; a fine of not more than $250,000; a period of supervised release of five years; and a mandatory $100 special assessment.
Drake was also convicted of possessing firearms as a convicted felon and of transporting stolen firearms across state lines. Those charges carry a maximum penalty of not more than 10 years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $250,000; not more than three years of supervised release; and a mandatory $100 special assessment.
As part of his plea agreement, Drake agreed to imposition of a 25-year prison sentence.
He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 11 before Enslen in Kalamazoo after completion and review by the district court of a pre-sentence report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.
In return for his plea to the federal charges and his agreement to a 25-year sentence, state charges in Michigan and California will not be pursued.
Drake faced prosecution in Cass County for solicitation of a minor for criminal sexual conduct and weapons charges.
Burns will dismiss a pending five-count complaint against Drake, including criminal sexual conduct and weapons charges. Drake was represented by Grand Rapids attorney Sharon Turek.
Federal and state charges arose from the disappearance of a 14-year-old girl from her home in Jones in Cass County's Porter Township on March 1, 2003.
Within hours, the Cass County Sheriff's Office determined that Drake, a convicted killer, left with the girl in the early morning hours and was traveling with her across the country.
Sheriff Joseph M. Underwood Jr. sought the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The Sheriff's Office, Cass County Major Crimes Task Force, the Michigan State Police Computer Crimes Unit and the FBI in St. Joseph, immediately began operating a 24-hour command center.
Their investigation and nationwide law enforcement alerts resulted in sightings in Wyoming, Nevada and California.
Strong media support had a direct impact upon this successful resolution, as widespread publication of this story and photographs of Drake provided leads to the command post.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provided substantial assistance in utilizing its existing networks for posting notification of the missing child.
The FBI and Cass County Sheriff's Office followed all leads in Michigan, Indiana and into the western United States.
In late March, the California Highway Patrol and Lassen County Sheriff's Department received information that the defendant and the girl were camping at a remote site in northern California.
After further investigation and multiple reports of contacts with the defendant by area residents, on March 24 Drake was located and apprehended without incident north of Susanville, Calif..
The minor was returned safely to Cass County.
Burns praised the "fine police work" of the California Highway Patrol, the Lassen County Sheriff's Department and the FBI.
Chiara acknowledged the close working relationship between law enforcement in Cass County, the local offices of the FBI in both Western Michigan and the Sacramento Division in California and the local office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Grand Rapids.
As a former elected prosecutor for Cass County, Chiara noted, "I have great admiration and respect for fine law enforcement agencies working in Cass County. This prosecution was so successful because of that cooperative relationship. These local, state and federal agencies worked around the clock to located this young victim of crime. All of our efforts were rewarded with her safe return."
The case also highlighted the need for a nationwide Amber Alert system to coordinate notification between states to recover abducted children.