Man arrested, pleads guilty to 1989 homicide

Michael Newkirk (photo courtesy Kent County Correctional Facility - Feb. 5, 2014)
Michael Newkirk (photo courtesy Kent County Correctional Facility - Feb. 5, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – A man has pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement, following his arrest in connection with a 1989 homicide.

Michael Wayne Newkirk, 60, was taken into custody on Wednesday and admitted to authorities to killing 88-year-old Helen Tracy.

Helen Tracy (1989 file photo)
Helen Tracy (1989 file photo)

On Thursday, Newkirk waived his preliminary hearing and circuit court arraignment. As part of a plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, which carries a penalty of 25 years to life behind bars.

Newkirk is scheduled for sentencing on March 20.

The Kent Metro Cold Case Team, which consists of detectives from the Michigan State Police, Kent County Sheriff’s Department and Grand Rapids Police Department, made the arrest.

Tracy was found dead in her residence at 60 Sutton St. SW in Grand Rapids on May 21, 1989. She had beaten and sexually assaulted after an intruder broke into her home during the early morning hours, according to a news release.

Police investigate a homicide at 60 Sutton St. SW in Grand Rapids. (May 21, 1989)
Police investigate a homicide at 60 Sutton St. SW in Grand Rapids. (May 21, 1989)

A neighbor called police to check on Tracy’s welfare after seeing a window broken and her home’s front door ajar, authorities said.

Grand Rapids Police began to investigate the case and developed a person of interest. Newkirk, then 35, was a neighbor of Tracy and considered a “good suspect.” But there was not enough evidence to link Newkirk to the crime at the time, and the case eventually went cold.

In 2009, the Kent Metro Cold Case Team took a second look at the case.

Newkirk’s criminal history showed he had been convicted of sexually assaulting a 3-year-old girl in 1980.

In 2004, a DNA match linked Newkirk to the 1992 sexual assault on an 80-year-old Kentwood woman, however the statute of limitations had expired. Newkirk was never charged in this case.

Throughout the years, he was arrested several times for larcenies and residential home invasions involving the theft of a woman’s under garments.

Cold case investigators could not eliminate Newkirk in the Tracy homicide, kept the case open and made repeated contacts with him throughout the years.  Their dogged persistence paid off because in 2013 Newkirk was convicted of breaking and entering, and sentenced to the Michigan Department of Corrections for two to 10 years.

Investigators interviewed Newkirk again and he confessed to his involvement in the murder. Newkirk indicated this was weighing heavy on his chest and he needed to talk about it, authorities said.

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Newkirk’s criminal history –

– 1971 — Ottawa County — Found guilty on a marijuana charge; six months probation

– March 1973 — Grand Rapids– Found guilty on a controlled substance violation; sentenced to one year probation

– March 1981 — Kent County Circuit Court — Found guilty of sexual assault; sentenced to 1.5 to 10 years in prison; released in August 1984

– April 1988 — Kent County Circuit Court — Pleaded guilty to larceny in a building (felony); sentenced to three months in jail

– June 1993 — Kent County Circuit Court — Pleaded guilty to stealing/retaining a financial transaction device; sentenced to two years probation

– April 1994 — Kent County Circuit Court — Pleaded guilty to receiving and concealing stolen property in excess of $100; sentenced to six months in jail

– September 1995 — Kent County Circuit Court — Pleaded guilty to larceny in a building (felony), sentenced to credit for time served; also pleaded guilty to second-degree home invasion, sentenced to 2.5 to 15 years in prison; released in August 2000

– November 2003 — Kent County Circuit Court — Pleaded guilty to two counts breaking and entering a vehicle with damage to vehicle (felony); sentenced to 1.5 to five years; released in June 2009

– June 2013 — Grandville District Court — Pleaded guilty to larceny less than $200; 10 days in jail

– July 2013 — Kent County Circuit C0urt — Pleaded guilty to breaking and entering a building with intent (felony); sentenced to 23 months to 10 years in prison; he was serving this at the time of the arrest

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