The court of appeals, threats from Joe Terpening and what's next?

March 1`1, 2013

Joe Terpening threats witnessesThe last time Michael Terpening left the Barry County Court House a free man his father, Joe Terpening, made some not so subtle threats after Michael I responded to a rude comment his now son, now a convicted child molester, made in a weird effort to mock your kindly correspondant.

Shortly after the conviction, Joe Terpening, began making threats to the safety of people who took the witness stand to testify for the State of Michigan to people around him. Oddly, the threats included warnings of jail time for witnesses. This information was passed to the authorities and not reported by this website out of an abundance of caution.

Now sources close to the members of the Terpening Family report the grumblings of Joe Terpening include a conviction witnesses will go to jail now that the case has been appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The only problem is the Michigan Court of Appeals does not decide if a witness lied. In our system this is left to the "finder of fact" in this case a jury of Michael Terpening's peers chosen by his lawyers and the lawyers for the prosecution.

In our adversarial system Terpening's lawyers knew what was coming. For almost a year the two sides fought over what would be allowed at trial The only real surprise was probably Michael Terpening, himself, testifying. The lawyers told the judge what they expected each witness to testify to months before the case came to trial. No surprises are allowed and both sides had their chance to challenge specific expected testimony before the judge.

When a witness testified Michael Terpening sexually assaulter her and she was beat by his sisters, Ryon Ann Keeler and Keri Terpening on a school bus Terpening's lawyers did not call the sisters to testify it never happened.

In the case of Keri Terpening how could she testify? The witnesses' testimony in court and later discussed at sentencing was Keri Terpening attempted to obstruct justice by getting a witness to sign an affidavit to the effect the allegations were not true. This was a stunt Michael's mother, Kim Tungate, and the Terpening Followers used or tried to use, repeatedly, to unravel the case against Michael Terpening. One witness contacted a lawyer who contacted the State Police to stop the constant daily demands to recant by Keri Terpening and Kim Tungate.

For the purposes of sentencing the Court made a finding the tactic was obstruction of justice and contributed to the judge departing from the sentencing guidelines which would have seen Michael Terpening out in a maximum of 85 months. Instead Terpening earned  minimum of 120 months in state prison.

Where was Keri Terpening? Where was Kim Tungate? They may have chosen not to testify because obstruction of justice is a crime. So what the jury heard was individual witnesses the defense cross examined. The defense did  not bring witnesses to challenge the stories of, for example, a bus beating by sisters Ryon Ann Keeler and Keri Terpening. In the end the jury heard the one witness tell of a beating while the Terpening sister's remained silent. Of course the jury did see the police report filed at the time concerning the alleged sexual assault more than 15 years ago backing up the witness.

So the court is left with the testimony of the witnesses who came, by subpoena, and told their story. Joe Terpening, like his son never figured out what the justice system is all about. It is not the province of the Court of Appeals to decide who was telling the truth, this is a matter for the jury alone. What the Court of Appeals looks at is what, if any, errors the court made. If "reversible error" was made by the trial court  it all starts over.

The jury's judgment is sacrosanct. In this case it's clear the jury was serious about its work. They acquitted on some charges while convicting on others. He has a tough slog in front of the Court of Appeals, it rarely overturns convictions.