Suspect: Prosecutor offered to lower charge if he moved

Assistant prosecutor has been removed from case because of connection to victim

The Kent County Courthouse (file photo)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids assault suspect is challenging the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office for offering him an unusual plea deal.

The deal: If he agreed to move out of his home, the felony charge he faced would be reduced.

The victim in the case and suspect John Yates, 50, said the deal was presented following an incident last June when prosecutors say Yates assaulted and injured the victim. Yates and the victim lived next door to one another.

Yates admits that he hit the victim with a rod but the men have differing accounts of what happened before that. Yates says the victim grabbed him. The victim says that isn’t true.

Tuesday, Yates told 24 Hour News 8 he thinks the prosecution was out of line in the plea bargain attempt.

“I’ve never heard of an offer like that before: ‘Move out your house,'” Yates said.

The victim in the case, who asked that his name not be used, said he was on board with the offer even though it would likely have kept his alleged attacker out of prison.

“Personally, I believe the overall goal was just to make sure that my wife and I would be safe going forward,” the victim said.

Prosecutors offered limited comment about the circumstances surrounding the case. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kellee Koncki handled the case and offered the deal. Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said he wasn’t in charge when the deal was offered.

“The offer that was made in the case was made with the approval of Mr. (Bill) Forsyth when he was prosecutor,” Becker wrote in an emailed statement. “I wasn’t included and did not know anything about it until after the election. I don’t know the facts presented to him or reasoning in making that offer.”

He said he was out of town and unavailable for a detailed interview about the case.

Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Professor Curt Benson said he sees nothing illegal about the plea offer.

“It’s complicated. I can see where a lot can go wrong between the time he enters the plea, and what happens if the house never gets sold?” Benson said.

He said he’s never heard of an offer like the one in Yates’ case but doesn’t see where the offer violated Yates’ rights.

“If he’s represented by council and if he doesn’t like the offer, then he’s free to say no,” he said.

Benson said he applauded the prosecution for coming up with an offer that provided resolution and avoided sending the alleged assailant to prison.

Yates is charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm, a felony that could send him to prison for up to 10 years. That was an increase of the original charge of felonious assault in the case. Koncki, citing a discussion with then-Prosecutor Forsyth, asked that the charge be upgraded as she began handling the case — another point of contention in how this matter has been handled.

Koncki was a coach at the high school the victim and his wife attended. Initially, the victim told 24 Hour News 8 she was his wife’s volleyball coach. He later said that statement was incorrect and that Koncki never coached his wife.

“I have no relationship with the victim or his wife,” Koncki said in a Tuesday night email to 24 Hour News 8. “I simply agreed to call this victim after one of my kids said a classmates’ older brother was attacked and he had questions about the process. After speaking with the victim on the phone I agreed to handle the prelim because he sounded so scared. I would have done the same (and have) for other victims regardless of the charge.”

Becker pulled her off the case after circumstances surrounding her connection to the victim in the case came to light.

“I had the case reassigned when there were concerns expressed to me that she knew the victim in the case,” Becker said in his statement. “She did not, she knew a relative, but to avoid any issues I reassigned the case.”

Yates says he believes his rights were violated by Koncki’s involvement with the case. He said he believes she should be removed from her position and the case against him should be thrown out.

“I think she shouldn’t be a prosecutor anymore,” Yates said.

Yates has a criminal history that includes two domestic violence convictions and a conviction for malicious destruction of property, Michigan State Police records show. The domestic violence convictions relate to arrests reportedly made in May and June of 2012. The malicious destruction of property conviction was from an arrest reported in 1991, the records show. In one incident, Koncki told a judge, he badly injured the victim. She said she was disturbed by photos of the victim’s injuries in the previous case.

The assault case against Yates is set to go to trial next month, Yates said. 24 Hour News 8 could not immediately reach Yates’ defense attorney by phone for comment.

Yates said he has lodged complaints with the NAACP and the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.