Michigan judge rejects juvenile sentencing for teens in highway rock-toss death

By Erin Donaghue

/ CBS News

Teens’ plea deal rejected in rock-toss death

A Michigan judge has rejected a plea deal and ruled that four teens involved in a deadly highway rock toss should be sentenced as adults, reports CBS affiliate WNEM. Kenneth White, 32, was riding in a van on Interstate 75, about 80 miles north of Detroit, in October 2017 when he was killed by a large rock thrown from an overpass.

Under the deal, now 18-year-old Mark A. Sekelsky, 16-year-old Trevor A. Gray, 17-year-old Mikadyn M. Payne and 17-year-old Alexzander S. Miller pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death and asked to be sentenced in juvenile court after they were initially charged with second-degree murder. Prosecutors say the teens were on the overpass with a fifth teen, Kyle Anger, who threw the rock that smashed into the van's windshield and killed White. Anger had previously pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and will be sentenced as an adult, the station reports.

From left to right, Mark Sekelsky, then 16; Trevor Gray, 15; Alexzander Miller, 15; Mikadyn Payne, 16; and Kyle Anger, 17; all of Clio, Mich., appear for their arraignment on Oct. 24, 2017, in Genesee County District Court in Flint, Mich. CBS This Morning

In rejecting the deal Tuesday, Genesee Circuit Judge Joseph J. Farah read Snapchat messages between the teens following news reports that White had died. The messages discussed getting tear-drop tattoos and "laying low," reports MLive.

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"The only way we get in trouble is if a b—– n—– rats, so you better hope he didn't give in already, or else we're all going to the slammer," Farah read aloud from the messages in court.

ctm-1026-kenneth-white-killed-by-rock.jpg
Kenneth White

Farah also said throwing the rock that killed White was not an isolated incident, reports MLive. He reportedly pointed to testimony describing six to 10 instances in which the teens allegedly dropped items off overpasses including rocks, a muffler, a shopping cart and a couch, damaging six vehicles.

"This was not a situation where someone drove by and saw a rock on the side of the overpass and said, 'Hey, let's throw this rock over and keep on going,'" Farah said, according to MLive. "There wasn't one event, nor was it done at a single location. The rocks and other items were gathered from other locations, loaded in a trunk and then driven to overpasses to throw them over."

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, White's mother, Theresa Simpson, praised the judge's decision.

"I'm very pleased with it. My prayers were answered. Kenneth's prayers were answered," Simpson said. "I'm ecstatic over the decision that was made today."

Sekelsky, Gray, Payne and Miller will have the option of withdrawing their guilty pleas and having the initial charges reinstated; accepting adult sentencing; or re-negotiating plea deals with the Genesee County Prosecutor's Office, according to MLive. Defense Attorney Frank Manley said it's "back to the drawing board" to determine next steps.

"There's no winners. You have a person whose life was taken. Now we have four young boys whose life might be taken. So to sit here and say this is a win for one side or the other, it's not," Manley said. "It's very sad across the board."

The next court hearing was set for Aug. 20.

First published on July 24, 2019 / 12:51 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Erin Donaghue

Erin Donaghue reports and writes for CBSNews.com on topics including criminal justice, social justice and culture. Follow her on Twitter at @ErinDonaghue.

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