God's servant pays ultimate price, parents get $400,000

July 27, 2015




From Matt Mencarini's account of the sentencing of John Kelsey (Lansing State Journal, 7/22/2015):


The courtroom was filled Wednesday with Whitaker’s friends and family, along with deputies and administrators from the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office. Many had to stand in the center aisle and the crowd spilled into an inner courtroom hallway.


Mary Whitaker spoke for nearly 40 minutes about the future her son won’t have and what the family went through the day of the crash and the weeks that followed. Many in the crowd started to cry.

It was certainly a tragedy, but John Kelsey should not be blamed for the death of Ingham County sheriff deputy Grant Whitaker:

Kelsey was charged with driving on a suspended or revoked license causing death, but the jury convicted him on a lesser charge — driving on a suspended or revoked license. (LSJ, 7/22/2015) (verdict form)

Whitaker was driving between 110 and 120 mph on an uneven 2-lane black-top road at 2:00 a.m. Dips in the road caused him to lose control and crash into a tree.

Rod Sanford/Lansing State Journal


That's what a State Police crash reconstructionist, who was on the scene by 3:15 that morning, concluded. No other vehicle was involved.


Whitaker didn't know Kelsey and had no idea who he was chasing. The pursuit started because a vehicle was seen travelling 55-60 mph in a 35 mph zone minutes after the bars closed. But, according to his mother, God handed Whitaker a torch, saying, "'It's time to stop him, Grant.' Our son paid the ultimate price for answering the call of God."


Despite Kelsey's never having been convicted of an assaultive offense, Judge James Jamo sentenced him to 20 to 45 years in prison (with time added for being a habitual offender). And despite having been found not responsible for the crash, the judge ordered Kelsey to pay $41,786.83 in restitution to the Ingham County Sheriff's Office for a new patrol car and $9,664.75 to Whitaker's parents. Whitaker was not married and had no children. His parents are also entitled to a $40,000 life insurance benefit from Ingham County, $339,310 from the federal government's Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program and $25,000 from Michigan's Public Safety Officer Benefit Program.


From the start, the prosecution was determined to portray Kelsey as a danger to society. They needed to justify that reckless, high-speed pursuit. To convince the jury that Kelsey was a drunk who had to be stopped at all costs, Assistant Prosecutor Jonathan Roth showed the jury surveillance video from the Dam Site Inn and counted the times he went to the restroom (3). He later asked a witness if frequent urination was a sign of intoxication. (The defense's objection was sustained.) He elicited from a convenience store clerk that Kelsey smoked American Spirit cigarettes and drank Budweiser.


What we see here is the Ingham County branch of the criminal justice industrial complex* punishing others for a screw-up on the part of one of their own. John Kelsey receives a 20-45 pointless prison sentence, his two small children lose their father, and the public gets to foot the bill for a 10-day trial, a 20-45 year prison stay at $35,000 a year and $400,000 in "benefits" for the grieving parents.


*The term "criminal justice industrial complex" comes from this story by Mackinac Center reporter Jarret Skorup.


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