Three years after revisiting the June 2, 2018, death of 36-year-old Grant Morrison by charging Chad Danbury, 45, with second-degree murder, Branch County Prosecutor Zack Stempien offered Danbury a plea bargain.
On Thursday afternoon, Danbury pled guilty to third-degree home invasion, a five-year felony. He will be sentenced Aug. 8.
Michigan State Police troopers investigated the death and submitted the case to former prosecutor Ralph Kimble.
Kimble and Assistant Prosecutor G. Scott Smith did a formal review of the police report on the incident from Michigan State Police and could not find criminal intent. Kimble declined to issue charges.
Police disposed of some of the evidence in the case after that decision.
After Stempien was appointed as prosecutor, at the request of Morrison’s family, he revisited the case and in February 2019. Stempien believed probable cause existed to authorize charges of second-degree murder and strangulation,
Stempien said there were at least four supplemental reports from troopers after the original investigation. He reviewed those in making the decision to charge Danbury.
The newly-appointed prosecutor felt “a triable question of fact existed regarding whether the defendant acted in lawful self-defense or defense of others during the incident,” his office said in a press release.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stempien and defense attorney Scott Grabel filed motions and prepared for trial.
Medical Examiner Dr. Troy Davis ruled the cause of death as "asphyxiation due to neck compression" adding "neck compressed during altercation.” It occurred at Morrison’s Morning Glory Lane home off Centennial Road.
Stempien said his office sought assistance of an expert in the area of strangulation. During the two years the case was on hold because of COVID-19, “this office engaged in extensive conversations with the victim’s family regarding potential likelihood of convictions and potential plea agreements.”
His office also interviewed each of the witnesses present for the incident.
According to the original police reports, the 911 call from a 15-year old boy living with Morrison reported an argument going on between Morrison and Danbury was becoming physical. The caller said Morrison was extremely intoxicated and the men were fighting.
Witnesses told the same story. Morrison had been drinking that evening. His blood alcohol tested .24, three times the legal limit to drive. He was angry with his girlfriend and threatened to throw her out.
Danbury, her cousin, had sent her to pack a bag so they could leave, when Morrison attacked him in the yard east of Centennial Road. Danbury and the witnesses said Morrison tackled him outside.
After the fight in the yard, inside, a second fight ensued. Morrison had struck Danbury in the throat. As the 324-pound Morrison got on top of the 210-pound Danbury, the smaller man tried to get him off. Witnesses said he put the bigger man in a choke hold and only got out from under him when he passed out.
Morrison was on the floor by bunk beds when troopers found no pulse and began CPR. Medical First Responders from Lakeland Fire and LifeCare were called.
Morrison was later pronounced dead at 1:20 a.m. Morrison, Kelly, Danbury, and a female friend of his, reportedly had been drinking since early evening.
Stempien said in his press release “Based upon the unique factors of this case, including the age of the case, likelihood of conviction, victim’s family position towards a plea agreement, potential self-defense claim, previous denial by the former prosecuting attorney, destruction of physical evidence, the delay caused by COVIDF-19, availability of potential witnesses, and the likely Michigan Sentencing Guideline Range if convicted, this office knew at the time of charging that the outcome of this case would be different than most homicide cases.”
Danbury admitted assaulting Morrison in his plea.
The prosecutor explained “The ultimate goal of this prosecuting attorney was to obtain the best guaranteed resolution in this case to obtain some sense of justice for the victim.”
“With the unfortunate reality that the resolution of this case would not undo the unfortunate events of June 2, 2018, considering the above, this office found a plea to home-invasion 3rd degree with a guaranteed potential term of incarceration to be the best guaranteed outcome of this case,” Stempien concluded.