New court dates set in high profile cases

CASSOPOLIS — New court dates have been set in three high profile Cass County cases. Jay Vincent Penar and Justin Carlton are charged in connection with the Jan. 27 murder of Michael Collins in Dowagiac. George Field is charged with criminal sexual conduct and other charges dating back to 2015.

Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz said Friday that it has been a challenging time to prosecute cases this year due to the pandemic. Specific to the Field case, he said his office and the alleged victim are anxious to see the trial start.

“These certainly have been challenging times during this pandemic,” Fitz said. “We’re very anxious to bring the Field matter to a conclusion and take it to trail with a jury giving us a just result. My office and the victim are anxious to move forward but we know we have to work through everything related to the pandemic.”

Penar, 39, of White Pigeon, faces 11 felony charges including open murder and armed robbery in connection with Collins’ death. He is scheduled to be in Cass Circuit Court Monday afternoon for a pretrial conference. No jury trial date has been set in his case.

Carlton, 41, of Kalamazoo, faces not only 13 charges in connection with the Jan. 27 murder but also four charges from a March incident at the Cass County Jail. He is scheduled to be in court Oct. 19 for a settlement conference ahead of an Oct. 27 trial.

The charges Carlton faces related to the Jan. 27 murder include open murder, armed robbery and two meth related charges. He is also charged with possession of a weapon in the jail and three counts of resisting and obstructing police from a March 8 incident at the jail.

Fitz reported earlier this year that it is alleged that Carlton was the person who shot Collins although both are charged with open murder. The two men robbed and tied up Collins and three others at a Louise Avenue home in Dowagiac before killing Collins.

In the third case, the George Field trial has again been delayed. It had most recently been scheduled to take place later this month on Sept. 22, but is now set for January. The trial is set to start Jan. 11 and will be held in Cass County with Allegan County Circuit Judge Roberts Kengis presiding.

Field, a former Southwestern Michigan College instructor, faces 17 criminal sexual conduct, perjury and insurance fraud charges stemming from incidents dating back to 2015. The incidents occurred in Dowagiac and involved a SMC student who went to him for private counseling.

The alleged victim informed SMC officials and police of the incident in 2017 and the college terminated Field a short time later after an investigation.

The Field case has been delayed several times over the last few years. Reasons have included the recusal of the initial judge, health issues of the defense attorney and coordinating schedules with Judge Kengis. The case this year has been delayed along with many others due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first big delay came after Cass County Circuit Judge Mark Herman recused himself in 2018. Herman had served on the board of directors of the counseling center where Field worked in addition to teaching at SMC.

Cass County court officials are currently working on plans to start up trials again in October. Many court proceedings have been put on hold due to the pandemic. The Michigan Supreme Court ordered in March that courthouses be closed to the public and most proceedings be adjourned.

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