Berrien Springs man gets prison time for sexually assaulting four girls

Published 5:00 am Sunday, September 10, 2023

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this story, the headline incorrectly stated that Sheppler was sentenced to probation when the story stated he was sentenced to prison. Leader Publications apologizes for this error and is happy to correct it.

NILES — An area man was sentenced to prison Friday in Berrien County Trial Court on criminal sexual conduct charges.

Derek Benjamin Sheppler, 43, of Berrien Springs, pleaded guilty to two counts of assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to two concurrent terms of 57 months to 10 years in prison, lifetime registry as a sex offender and $2,326 in fines, costs and restitution.

The incidents occurred over more than a decade against four young girls in the Berrien Springs area.

The four victims spoke before the sentencing via Zoom. They said they are still fighting to overcome the trauma from being abused from the time they were young children to when they were teenagers. They said they had difficulty trusting men and have had to deal with depression and thoughts of suicide.

“He did disgusting things to every female child he had access to,” one victim said. All the victims said they felt Sheppler’s sentence should reflect the number of years he abused them.

Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Kate Arnold said the victims tried to contact authorities at various times over the years but no action was taken until recently. “No time in prison will ever make up for all that happened,” she said. “They have had a lot of trauma they continue to go through and will always go through for the rest of their lives.”

Defense attorney Jessica LaFond said Sheppler has shown remorse and accepted responsibility for his actions. “He’s never said he didn’t do it,” she said. “He has no criminal history and there are no allegations of other inappropriate activity. He’s extremely sorry to all the victims.”

“Nothing I can say can make up for what I’ve done,” Sheppler said.

“It is uncommon that you are willing to come in to take responsibility but that doesn’t change anything for these four women,” Judge Smith said. “They went through years of horrible trauma … It’s almost impossible for you to appreciate the impact you had on their lives. Hopefully this is some closure for them.”

In another sentence, a Niles man was sentenced to prison for possession of meth after violating his probation from another drug conviction.

Dustin Aaron McCuddy, 37, of Niles, pleaded guilty to possession of meth and was sentenced to 12 months to 10 years in prison. He must pay $198 in fines and costs. His probation was revoked from violating his probation from an earlier use of meth conviction.

The incident occurred June 19 in Niles Township.

While McCuddy took responsibility for his actions and said he wants to change his life, Judge Smith said he had been given opportunities in the past which he hasn’t taken advantage of. “You were on probation and had resources offered and you didn’t take advantage of them,” she said. “There’s only so much we can do.”