By Virginia Black | South Bend Tribune
Berrien County District Judge Dennis Wiley has vacated the sentence of a young man from Elkhart who had sex in December with a Niles 14-year-old who lied about her age.
Zachery Anderson — whose case has drawn outrage and publicity from around the country amid calls for sex offender registry reforms in Michigan — first heard the news Monday morning during a phone call from one of the two probation departments that has monitored him since he was released from jail in July.
Lester Anderson, Zach’s father, said today the family is understandably delighted.
“It’s not over,” he said, “but it’s a step.”
Zach Anderson, who was 19, had met the girl online, and she told him she was 17. They met in December when he picked her up at her Niles home, and it was only later that he discovered she was actually 14.
The girl and her mother both pleaded with the judge and the prosecutor to not deal with Zach harshly, but in late April, Wiley sentenced Zach to 90 days in jail, five years on probation and 25 years on Michigan’s sex offender registry. The list of his restrictions includes computer use, being around those with computers or any young people, an 8 p.m. curfew and no venturing out of Elkhart County without permission. The young man was forced to give up his computer science major at Ivy Tech.
The Andersons bought a house for Zach to live in alone that would meet sex offender registry restrictionsbecause he could not live in their home, and their son works for their Elkhart business.
Zach Anderson’s attorney, Scott Grabel of Lansing, filed a motion with Wiley in June to throw out the sentence and the plea agreement. In his motion and in court Aug. 5, he told the judge the fact that Assistant Prosecutor Gerald Vigansky recommended the judge use the same sentencing with Anderson as he had with two other young men in very similar circumstances earlier in the year violated part of the deal: that the prosecutor would not recommend against the judge’s applying of a Michigan law that allows leniency in such cases.
In the Aug. 5 hearing, Wiley admitted Vigansky’s comments in court were likely a violation and that he would rule “soon” in the case.
In the ruling released today but dated Thursday, Wiley writes Vigansky’s comments did not influence his sentencing decision, which instead was based on “the Court’s observation of the victim at sentencing, who appeared to be extremely young in development and maturity … It should have been apparent to a casual observer that she was clearly underage and vulnerable. The Court did not articulate these factors for the sentence imposed, so as to avoid further embarrassment to the victim and her family.”
Also, because Anderson dropped the girl off down the street of her home, he he knew “she was ‘sneaking out’ of her house,” Wiley wrote. “This was anything but a ‘date.'”
But because of the issue with the prosecutor’s comments at sentencing, Wiley ordered Anderson to be resentenced by a different judge, who will be randomly assigned, and a new pre-sentence report will be conducted.
Anderson was also ordered to appear in front of Wiley at 1 p.m. Friday for a new bond to be set pending re-sentencing.
Since The Tribune first published about the case in May, national media and blogs have reported on the issue, including CNN, the New York Times, Nightline, TV host T.D. Jakes and columnist/blogger Lenore Skenazy (“The America’s Worst Mom”).