Published July 10, 2014
Judge sentences defendants in Utash assault to prison, probation
By Kevin Bunch firstname.lastname@example.org
DETROIT — On July 7, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge James Callahan sentenced two people charged in the April 2 assault of Steven Utash, a man with links to Roseville, following plea agreements with prosecutors.
Under the agreements, Wonzey Saffold, 30, will face a minimum of six years and four months in prison, with a maximum of 10 years. Bruce Wimbush, 17, will receive three years of probation under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, which means that the assault felony will be expunged from his record if he goes the entire three years without getting into trouble and follows the directives of his probation officer. Wimbush also must come back to court periodically for drug testing, as he admitted to using marijuana in the past.
The other two adult defendants — Latrez Cummings, 19, and James Davis, 24, had sentencing hearings July 10. Davis was sentenced to 12 months in the Wayne County jail and five years probation overlapping the jail term, and he is eligible for work release. Cummings’ sentencing was delayed until July 17 pending additional information on whether or not he should have been in school when the assault happened.
All four adult defendants pleaded guilty to assault with intent to do great bodily harm. A juvenile defendant had been sentenced June 18 following his own plea agreement. The Wayne County Probation Department is handling his case.
The assault occurred while Utash was driving on Morang Street on Detroit’s east side. According to a statement from Utash, which his daughter Mandi Emerick read prior to the sentencing, he was stopped at the light at the Kelly Road intersection, saw some kids at the curb, and as he was driving by, one darted out and ran into his vehicle.
“I got out as quickly as I could to check on the kid, and he was unconscious, so I called 911,” Emerick read. “A teenager came up screaming that I did it on purpose and was trying to get away, and he started swinging at me.”
Emerick read that Utash remembers a woman at the nearby gas station telling the teen to stop because it clearly was an accident, but the woman ended up leaving. An older guy walked toward him before hitting him, and that was the last thing he remembered.
Utash’s statement said he still is not allowed to drive, work on his own, or make his own financial decisions until he can prove that he is OK, though he added that he feels fine at the moment.
Several other members of Utash’s family issued emotional statements demanding harsh sentences for the bulk of the defendants. His brother, Ken Utash, believed the plea deals were too lenient.
“One defendant said he thought of that child as my brother. Well, that was my brother,” Ken Utash said. “We don’t know the long-term ramifications. He was apologizing and begging, and not one of them cared about his plea.”
Prosecutor Lisa Lindsey said Saffold’s plea statement about his reasoning — that his children play with the boy that was injured — ran counter to a previous police statement that he did not know the boy, though Callahan upheld the plea sentencing.
Saffold’s attorney, Ray Paige, said that as long as he had been representing Saffold, his client had shown remorse and sympathy to the Utash family,
“The first step to rehabilitation is admitting you did something wrong,” Paige said. “This spares the family from going through the trial. Yes, he benefited from the plea bargain, but he has insisted from the beginning he didn’t intend to kill Mr. Utash.”
Paige added that his client understands that he will not be there to see his family or the impending birth of his baby, because he understands the consequences of his actions. Saffold apologized on the stand.
“I want to apologize to Mr. Utash and his family for the problems my actions have caused,” Saffold said.
Wimbush’s attorney, Randall Upshaw, wanted to make a distinction between the first few blows and the mob attack on Utash that followed, saying that his client backed out after the first couple hits and stayed away from the greater assault.
“During the mob assault, he stayed away and watched and felt remorseful,” Upshaw said. “He said that he would do everything in his power to make it right.”
He said his client’s involvement was the product of his emotions getting the better of him, and that he was fully cooperative with the police in their investigation.
Wimbush said he was afraid to get into the middle of the assault to try and stop it, because he was worried the mob would begin attacking him, too.
Callahan’s sentencing for Davis fell below the guidelines, Lindsey said, which set out a minimum of 19 months in jail. Callahan argued that the defendant’s sincere apology, helpfulness with police and remorse since the incident, as well as his age, made Callahan feel the sentencing was reasonable, and he added that he did not agree with the scoring on his record that sets the guidelines. He told Lindsey the Prosecutor’s Office could appeal.
Jason Malkiewicz, Davis’ attorney, welcomed the decision, though he said the Utash family members did not seem so pleased.
“I think the judge did a great job looking at all the factors,” Malkiewicz said. “Obviously, (the Utash family is) going to be upset; it was their family member and he hurt them. They were asking for a serious sentence — I’d be upset, too, if it were me — but I think the judge did the right thing.”
He said Davis had a job lined up prior to the court case that was pending, though Malkiewicz is not sure where that stands now.
Cummings’ lawyer, Robert Slameka, was hoping for similar leniency for his client, who he said is trying to finish high school and get a diploma so he can find a job. Putting him in prison, Slameka argued, would be bad for Cummings and his community, adding that his client has expressed remorse.
Lindsey said that Cummings had gone before members of the media and said he had not done anything, which Slameka chalked up to stupidity, saying that he had not seen the interview in question. Cummings said he felt pressured and did not want people thinking he was a monster.
“I know nothing I can say will justify what I’ve done. There’s no excuse,” Cummings said. “I apologize to those I hurt and want the chance to do better.”
When Callahan asked why Cummings was not working, Cummings said he has been going to school during the day and taking classes in the evening to catch up, adding that his school allows students to use laptops to work remotely if they cannot physically make it to the building. He did not remember if that was the case on the day of the assault.
Callahan postponed sentencing until information could be obtained regarding whether the laptop program Cummings described does replace in-school credit.