ADRIAN — A Morenci man was sentenced to life in prison without parole Friday after a jury found him guilty in May of molesting a girl.
Lenawee County Circuit Judge Michael R. Olsaver issued the unusual sentence after Ernest William Black’s attorney, Brian Frey of Adrian, argued that the conviction should be set aside because Black was not told by himself, the courts or the prosecution that he could be sentenced to life without parole, which may have changed the outcome of plea negotiations. Black had been told he faced a minimum of 25 years in prison, up to life with the possibility of parole.
“He is entitled to being informed of the penalties against him,” Frey said.
Black originally was scheduled to be sentenced June 23, but it was delayed a week while the provision in Michigan’s criminal sexual conduct statute that allowed the life without parole sentence was studied.
Michigan law allows for the sentence if the offense was committed by a person older than 18 and the victim was younger than 13 and the defendant had a previous criminal sexual conduct conviction against a person younger than 13.
Black pleaded no contest in 2003 in Washtenaw County Circuit Court to a charge of first-degree criminal sexual conduct against a person younger than 13, according to online Washtenaw County court records. The Lenawee County Circuit Court jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of accosting children for immoral purposes.
Black was arrested in July 2021. Morenci police said in an affidavit of probable cause filed in Lenawee County District Court that the offenses took place in February 2020.
Frey said the prosecution offered a plea deal to third-degree criminal sexual conduct, but Black rejected it against his advice.
Lenawee County Assistant Prosecutor Douglas Hartung said the offer was to plea to second-degree criminal sexual conduct, but it was contingent upon Black testifying against another person. When Black said he did not know that person, Hartung said, the plea offer was withdrawn because the prosecutor’s office couldn’t use him to try the other case.
Olsaver called the case an “odd situation.” He said a case cited by the attorneys as being instructive on how to handle the situation involved a defendant who was sentenced and then appealed. He said in this case, there wasn’t enough of a problem to set aside the conviction.
“I don’t think there was a procedural flaw in what led up to the conviction,” he said.
Frey argued for leniency in the sentence, saying that forensic evaluations of Black’s criminal responsibility and mental competency identified significant mental health issues.
“I’m not a monster, your honor,” Black said, adding there was “no way I could hurt another human being” after being molested himself as a child.
The girl told the court she sometimes wakes up in a panic and described becoming anxious when walking to a friend’s house and a man was walking behind her.
“I know he had a rough childhood, but that’s no excuse for what he’s done,” she said.
Hartung said the girl “buried” Black with her “brave and courageous” testimony in court.
“That little girl is something else,” he said.
He also advocated for following another provision in the law that allows for consecutive sentences, saying that happens in first-degree murder cases where a defendant is also convicted of felony firearm.
Olsaver acknowledged Hartung’s argument but declined to make the sentences consecutive because of the mandatory life without parole sentence.
“I don’t think it would accomplish more than what the mandatory sentence would do,” he said.
Along with the life sentence, Olsaver ordered Black to serve 30 months to six years in prison on the accosting charge, to pay court costs, to not have contact with the victim or another woman, to register as a sex offender for life and to be monitored electronically for life. He also granted Black 362 days credit for time already served in jail.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegram: Molestation sends Morenci man to prison for life