Berrien Springs resident sentenced as a habitual offender in Cass County Court Friday

CASSOPOLIS – Probation and jail sentences were handed down Friday in Cass County Circuit Court. The proceedings were in large part again conducted remotely with defendants and attorneys appearing via teleconferencing.

Zachary Merrill, 32, of West Madison Street in Berrien Springs, pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamines as a habitual offender and was sentenced to 365 days in jail with credit for 94 days already served. He must pay $1,198 in fines and costs and his license will be suspended for one year.

The incident occurred Oct. 8, 2019, in Ontwa Township when a search of the property found meth, drug paraphernalia and a loaded shotgun. A charge of felony firearms, which would require a two-year prison term, was dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz noted that Merrill has 11 prior convictions in Berrien County and other locations.

“He made a bad mistake. When you have drugs and a gun with you, it’s a real problem,” he said. “He needs to get clean, get straight and get off drugs. He doesn’t need to come back here, or he’ll go to prison.”

“I’m ready to put this behind me and move forward,” Merrill said.

During sentencing, Cass County Circuit Judge Mark Herman warned Merrill that he needed to straighten his life out.

“I hope you realize that possession of drugs and guns leads to prison,” he said. “You’re starting to dig quite a hole for yourself. You’re 32 and a young man, it’s time to put this behind you. … Are you going to wake up and see the light or spend time in prison?”

Also Friday;

  • A Dowagiac man was placed on probation after pleading guilty to possession of methamphetamines.

Johnny Williams, 61, of Gray Street in Dowagiac, pleaded guilty to possession of meth as a habitual offender and was sentenced to two years’ probation, credit for 164 days already served and $2,268 in fines and costs. His license is suspended for six months.

The incident occurred Sept. 4, 2019, at Williams’ home on Gray Street in Dowagiac. Charges of tampering with evidence and maintaining a drug house were dismissed.

“At age 61, sadly the chickens have come home to roost,” Fitz said. “He said he used meth to cope. That’s like eating bacon to help with your heart disease.”

Defense attorney Greg Feldman said he’s certain that Williams was taken advantage of by others who brought drugs into his home.

“That doesn’t excuse what he did, but he deserves an opportunity to prove he can be compliant on probation,” he said.

“I messed up, I tried to help others and it backfired on me,” Williams said.

Judge Herman noted that this is Williams’ fourth felony conviction.

“You said you used meth to cope with the poor relationship you have with your daughter,” he said. “Trust me, meth and alcohol are never going to make your relationship better. If you want to fix your relationship you need to fix yourself.

“Your other felonies were for non-support and you have nine misdemeanors,” the judge added. “You’ve never been to prison but you’ve gotten yourself to the point that at age 61 that another felony could mean a prison term. I’m concerned if we can teach this old dog new tricks.”

  • Another Dowagiac man was sentenced to probation for carrying a concealed weapon.

Gene Merryman, 38, of Courtland in Dowagiac, pleaded guilty to carrying a concealed weapon as a habitual offender and was sentenced to two years’ probation, credit for 180 days already served and $2,268 in fines and costs.

The incident occurred Oct. 27, 2019, when he was stopped by police outside the Vineyard apartments after people called about a window peeper. While there wasn’t evidence that he was doing window peeping, police did find him with a weapon and drugs. A possession of meth charge was dismissed.

Fitz noted that Merryman’s past record included eight felonies and nine misdemeanors. “The chickens are coming home to roost in a big way,’ he said. “He was scouting out house and had a gun with him. He’s not a guy who’s done only two to three crimes, he’s done it again and again and again. He needs to grow up and obey the law.”

Defense attorney Jim Miller asked the judge to give Merryman a chance to make something of himself.

“He needs to find employment or get into a trade school to keep him occupied and boost his self-esteem,” he said. “He’s someone worth saving.”

Merryman asked for help and treatment.

“There’s one saving grace, you cooperated with police,” Judge Herman said. “Be a man of your word. If not, I will be a man of mine and send you to prison.”

  • Two area men were sentenced on misdemeanor assault charges.

Alfredo Garcia, 38, of Cass Street in Edwardsburg, pleaded guilty to two counts of domestic violence-aggravated assault and was sentenced to 10 months’ probation, credit for one day served and $500 in fines and costs.

The incident occurred Aug. 23 in Edwardsburg when he punched the victim in the face and choked her.

Roger Syx, 32, of Terminal Road in Niles, pleaded guilty to domestic violence and was sentenced to 10 months’ probation, credit for 115 days already served and $850 in fines and costs.

The incident occurred Dec. 6 at a residence in Dowagiac.

In one other court proceeding, a Dowagiac woman sentenced to prison in February for conspiracy to commit sexual assaults had her sentence amended. Alison Morgado, 38, was sentenced Feb. 7 to 10 years in prison. Friday’s sentence amendment added lifetime electronic monitoring to the sentence. It had inadvertently left out in February.