Six incidents land Elkhart man in prison

Published 9:29 am Monday, November 22, 2021

CASSOPOLIS — An Elkhart man is going to prison after being sentenced Friday in Cass County Circuit Court on multiple counts including stolen property, weapons and fleeing police offenses.

Gary Lee Leiting Jr., 27, of Elkhart, pleaded guilty in relation to six different incidents in 2020 and was sentenced to a total of 50 months in prison. He has no credit for the 371 days he has served, as he was on parole at the time of the incidents from 2018 convictions in Berrien County.

Leiting was sentenced to 26 months to seven and a half years in prison and $1,616 in fines and costs for receiving, concealing and possession of a stolen vehicle and fleeing police as a habitual offender. That incident took place March 3, 2020, in Dowagiac.

He also received a two-year prison sentence for felony firearm in that incident. He must pay $68 and forfeit his weapon.

He was sentenced to 24 months to three years in prison and $266 for resisting and obstructing police and fleeing police — both as a habitual offender on March 3, 2020, in Dowagiac.

He was sentenced to 24 months to three years in prison and $68 in fines and costs for fleeing and eluding as a habitual offender on Aug. 19, 2020, near Edwardsburg.

He was sentenced to 24 months to seven and a half years in prison, and $198 in fines and costs for receiving, concealing and possession of stolen property over $1,000 and under $20,000 on Oct. 16, 2020, near Dowagiac.

He was sentenced to $175 in fines and costs and $5,000 restitution for use of meth and attempted resisting and obstructing police on Sept. 19, 2020, near Cassopolis.

All prison terms except the felony firearm term are concurrent. The felony firearm sentence is consecutive. Leiting also faces charges in Elkhart County for seriously injuring a police officer during a chase that went from Cass to Elkhart County.

“Mr. Leiting is going fast to nowhere,” Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz said. “At age 27, this is no way to live life. He’s been to prison before and has another case pending in Elkhart. Hopefully he reflects on his life and figure out ways to get help.”

Defense attorney Robert Drake noted that Leiting has been in custody for over a year with his sentencings postponed as more charges were filed against him.

“He never once said, ‘I didn’t do it.’ He owned up to this from the first time I talked to him,” he said. “He understands this is a mess of his making.”

Cass County Circuit Judge Mark Herman that Leiting, at age 27, had nine felony and eight misdemeanor convictions before these incidents.

“If you spent half as much time doing something productive than getting into trouble, you wouldn’t be here,” he said. “You have the foundation to change your life, you will still be a young man with good years ahead of you when you get out. …  You are way, way better off on the outside when you’re not running from police. You eventually always get caught in the end, eventually it will catch up with you.”

Also Friday, people were sentenced on drug and drunk driving charges.

Jerry Clayton Hicks, 30, of Lester Avenue in Dowagiac, pleaded guilty to third offense drunk driving and was sentenced to two years’ probation, 150 days in jail with credit for two days served, $1,608 in fines and costs and $290 in restitution. His license is also revoked.

The incident occurred June 24 when Hicks was stopped by police on Commercial Street in Dowagiac after driving on the wrong side of the street. He failed a field sobriety test and his blood alcohol level was .147, nearly twice the legal limit.

“He is a danger to the public. Ten thousand people are killed every year by drunk and drugged drivers,” Fitz said. “He had an 11-year-old minor in the car. This was not his first rodeo. … He needs to stay off the alcohol and dope is not helping him either. He’s his own worst enemy.”

Judge Herman noted that Hicks left the Adult Treatment Court program twice in the months before Friday’s sentencing.

“You’re 30 years old with young children, you need to get your life under control, or you will spend a lot of time away from them,” he said.

Donald Copas-Degraff, 37, of Oak Drive in Edwardsburg, pleaded guilty to possession of meth and was sentenced to 18 months’ probation, credit for six days in jail already served and $2,648 in fines and costs. His license was suspended for six months.

The incident occurred June 23 at his home in Edwardsburg where police conducted a search and found meth.

Judge Herman noted that the defendant only started using meth last year.

“Probation makes sense to me to get you back on track,” he said. “But I can assure you that there will be nothing but jail in the future if you don’t stop using.”

Gary Keith Covell, 47, of Bradley Street in Dowagiac, pleaded guilty to possession of meth as a habitual offender and was ordered to pay $1,548 in fines and costs and have credit for three days served under an 11-month delayed sentencing agreement. If he doesn’t complete the terms of his sentence, he could face a prison term.

That incident occurred Sept. 9, 2020, in Dowagiac.

He also pleaded guilty to use of meth and was ordered to pay $625 and received credit for 38 days served from a Aug. 23, 2019, incident in Dowagiac.

Judge Herman noted that Covell had 50 or more previous convictions and still has outstanding warrants out from Van Buren County. “If you’re crime free for the next year, there will be no more jail,” he said. “You have to take a good long look at your life. If you violate, you face 34 months in prison.”