- About Us
- In the News
- Criminal Division
- Programs & Services
- Child Support
- Victim Assistance
- Alternative Justice Program
- Citizens Criminal Justice Academy
- Just for Kids
- Contact Us
Recent Court Decisions
On June 13, 2014 an Elkhart County jury convened in Superior Court 5 convicted Richard Bontrager, age 58, of OWI – endangerment, a Class A misdemeanor. Bontrager pled guilty to battery on a law enforcement officer, a Class A misdemeanor.
On March 24, 2013, Cpl. Dustin Sahlhoff with the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department conducted a traffic stop on a truck driving on SR 15 in Elkhart County, Indiana. The driver, Richard Bontrager, admitted to drinking, and after failing the field sobriety test, Cpl. Sahlhoff continued to conduct an Operating While Intoxicated investigation. After refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test, Cpl. Sahlhoff began the arrest process. As the responding officers attempted to arrest Bontrager, Bontrager became rude and aggressive, kicking Cpl. Sahlhoff. Over an hour later Bontrager later submitted to a breathalyzer test with a finding of .06 BAC.
The State was able to proceed with an OWI – Endangerment case because Indiana law does not require a BAC of .08 as long as the State can prove intoxication. At trial the State presented testimony and videos of Cpl. Sahlhoff’s investigation to support the claim that the defendant showed signs of intoxication. After reviewing evidence presented at trial, an Elkhart County jury found Bontrager guilty of OWI – endangerment.
This case was tried by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Peter Soldato before Judge Charles Wicks in Superior Court 5.
**** "Under Indiana law, all persons arrested for a criminal offense are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law." ****
On June 4, 2014 an Elkhart County jury found Roger Hartman, of Osceola, St Joseph County, guilty of Strangulation, a Class D felony and Battery, a Class A misdemeanor. The jury convicted Mr. Hartman after hearing evidence Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning regarding an incident in Elkhart County.
According to evidence introduced in trial, on September 30, 2012, in the midst of a divorce, Hartman’s wife was moving out of their home and into a basement apartment in a home on the outskirts of Goshen. While his wife was moving in and being helped by their twin ten-year-old children and another female friend, Hartman visited the apartment and was asked to leave. Later that night, according to witness testimony, Hartman returned to the apartment smelling of alcohol and flew into a rage, demanding that his children leave with him. When the female friend tried to calm him down, Hartman grabbed and twisted her finger before wrestling her to the ground, where he grabbed her around the throat with both hands and strangled her – in front of his children and wife.
Hartman’s wife and children were able to stop the altercation; however, a moment later, Hartman again grabbed the victim, cutting off her breathing, until the homeowner was able to intervene. The victim was then able to leave the home and call the police. At trial, the victim testified that she was terrified that she was not going to survive the incident.
The jury heard testimony not only from the victim and the homeowner but also former Elkhart County Sheriff’s Patrolman Don Bader. Bader testified how traumatized the victim had been and how he investigated and pursued the case for several days, before ultimately arresting Hartman at his home in Osceola with the assistance of the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Dowd also presented pictures to the jury of the victim’s injuries, where Hartman had kneeled on her while strangling her, as well as aerial pictures of the home to illustrate how Hartman had parked out of view of the home and stealthily entered through the basement door in the darkness.
The case was tried by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Dowd in Elkhart County Superior Court One in front of Judge Dean Burton. Sentencing is scheduled for July 14, 2014.
“Under Indiana law, all persons arrested for a criminal offense are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.”
On March 3, 2014, after deliberating for less than 15 minutes, a jury convicted Wesley New of Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) and Driving While Suspended – Prior, both Class A misdemeanors. Upon being convicted by the jury, New waived his right to a jury for the second phase of the trial and admitted to the Court that he had a prior conviction for OWI within the previous five years, which makes his charge a Class D felony. Therefore, the Court entered judgments of conviction for felony OWI and misdemeanor Driving While Suspended.
On April 4, 2013, the defendant was driving on County Road 6 in Elkhart, Indiana, near the Elkhart Municipal Airport. An eyewitness, Douglas McDaniel, testified that the defendant crossed over into the opposite lane of traffic, nearly colliding head-on with a tow truck as the tow truck blasted its air horn. The defendant then drove through a ditch, side swiped a utility pole which knocked out the electricity of the nearby fire department, crashed through two business signs, drove for a period of time on two wheels, and finally came to a stop in a nearby parking lot.
Upon initial contact with Officer Chad Hoien of the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department, the defendant was observed acting slow, lethargic, and had slurred speech. It turned out his Indiana driving privileges were that of “suspended – prior” at the time he crashed his vehicle as well. The defendant then performed some field sobriety tests, of which he failed two of three, and then consented to a breath test. The breath test, however, revealed no alcohol on the defendant’s breath, with a reading of .00. Despite the lack of alcohol, officers involved could see, based upon their training and experience, that something was not right with the defendant. He was nodding off, slurring his words, changing his attitude from a joking manner to becoming irate and using expletives, and acting bizarre. As a result, Officer Dustin Lundgren of the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department, who is a certified and recognized Drug Recognition Expert, met with the defendant and asked him if he would perform a Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE), to which the defendant consented. After a series of psychophysical tests and a formal interview, Officer Lundgren concluded that the defendant was impaired under the influence of two different drugs – synthetic marijuana and Vicodin – and was unable to safely operate a vehicle. The defendant ultimately admitted that he had taken Vicodin the day before without a valid prescription, smoked synthetic marijuana “two days” prior, and smoked marijuana “a couple of weeks” prior.
When the defendant was asked to submit a sample of his blood or urine for scientific analysis, the defendant became enraged, cursed at the officers, and refused to submit a bodily fluid sample. However, there was still an abundance of evidence demonstrating that he was intoxicated on drugs. At the time, the defendant had a previous conviction for OWI only ten months prior, making this offense a felony.
The jury heard extensive testimony from Officers Hoien and Lundgren and they were presented with three separate videos from the investigation that demonstrated just how impaired the defendant was on April 4, 2013. At trial, the defense claimed that the defendant crashed his car only because he fell asleep at the wheel, and that the defendant failed the field sobriety tests because he had a plate and screws in his ankle and wrists due to previous car accidents. However, the State countered those arguments by explaining that a person who is merely tired does not exhibit the signs and symptoms shown by the defendant; and the defendant never once complained that he was unable to perform the sobriety tests due to previous injuries.
This case was prosecuted by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Eric Ditton, with assistance from Legal Intern Martin Garry, before Judge David C. Bonfiglio. Judge Bonfiglio scheduled sentencing for Wednesday, April 2, 2014 in Elkhart Superior Court 6.
On February 27, 2014 defendant Adam White was convicted of one count of Battery by Means of a Deadly Weapon, a Class C Felony. White stabbed victim Rolando Canchola with a knife approximately one foot in length in the area of Brady Street and Jackson Place on September 10, 2013, while Canchola was outside with friends and other members of the neighborhood.
The jury convicted despite the defendant’s argument that he acted in self-defense after he and his girlfriend were “jumped” by three to four men; recognizing that White had gone back to his residence to retrieve knives after an initial altercation. Additionally, the prosecution presented over thirty photos of White’s injuries which were inconsistent with his claims that he had been assaulted with a bicycle, 25 pound bricks, and beaten with sticks and tree branches. Elkhart Police Department officers testified that they eventually found White hiding in a cinderblock crawlspace in his basement, and he had to be commanded several times to come out, even after they announced themselves as “Police.” They further testified that White never asked for medical attention for his injuries, and the injuries were consistent with getting in and out of the dirty, small crawlspace as they were superficial skin abrasions.
White also always maintained that he had stabbed Canchola with a stick lying on the ground near him, although he stipulated to the DNA evidence found on the knives in his home as being that of Canchola. He changed his story during his time on the witness stand on February 27, 2014, finally admitting that he had used a knife that he had taken from his residence.
As a result of his conviction, Judge Evan Roberts scheduled sentencing for March 27, 2014, at 2:00 p.m. White is facing between two and eight years at the Indiana Department of Correction. He is being held without bond at the Elkhart County Correctional Complex. This case was tried by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kathleen Gring.
On February 14, 2014 Mitchell Frantz a six person jury found Mitchell Frantz guilty of Battery and Bodily Injury (A Misdemeanor) after injuring his elderly neighbor. On January 26, 2013 an elderly citizen of Elkhart County believed she heard a domestic violence occurring in a next-door apartment. When the concerned neighbor went next door to help out a potential victim in need, she became a victim herself.
The defendant, upon hearing his elderly neighbor complain about the noises coming from the apartment, pushed the neighbor off of his front porch, shattering her elbow and causing momentary unconsciousness. While the Mr. Frantz wife testified on his behalf, she was later confronted with her 911 call from the time of the incident which conflicted with her earlier testimony. This trial was handled by Deputy Prosecutor Peter Soldato with assistance from Deputy Prosecutor Michelle Weeks in Elkhart Superior Court 5 before the Honorable Judge Charles Wicks.