The Weekly Newspaper serving the citizens of Morenci, Mich., Fayette, Ohio, and surrounding areas.

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    FIRST SNOW—Heavy, wet flakes piled deep on tree branches—and windshields—as the area received its first significant snowfall of the season. “Usually it begins with a dusting or two,” said George Isobar, Morenci’s observer for the National Weather Service, “but this time it came with a vengeance.” By the end of the day Saturday, a little over four inches of snow was on the ground. Now comes the thaw with temperatures in the 40s and 50s for three days.
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    SKEWERS, gumdrops, and marshmallows are all that’s needed to create interesting shapes and designs for Layla McDowell Saturday at Stair District Library’s “Sculptamania!” Open House. The program featuring design games and materials is one part of a larger project funded by a $7,500 Curiosity Creates grant from Disney and the American Library Association. Additional photos are on page 7.
    Morenci marching band members took to the field Friday night dressed for Halloween during the Bulldog’s first playoff game. Morenci fans had a bit of a scare until the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs scored 30 points to leave Lenawee Christian School behind. Whiteford visits Morenci this Friday for the district championship game. From the left is Clayton Borton, Morgan Merillat and James O’Brien.
    DNA PUZZLE—Mitchell Storrs and Wyatt Mohr tackle a puzzle representing the structure of DNA. There’s only one correct way for all the pieces to fit. It’s one of the new materials that can be used in both biology and chemistry classes, said teacher Loretta Cox.
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    A TRAFFIC control worker stands in the middle of Morenci’s Main Street Tuesday morning, waiting for the next flow of vehicles to be let through from the west. The dusty gravel surface was sealed with a layer of tar, leaving only the application of paint for new striping. The project was completed in conjunction with county road commission work west of Morenci.
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    JUNIORS Jazmin Smith and Trevor Corkle struggle against a team from the sophomore class Friday during the annual tug of war at the Homecoming Games pep rally. Even the seniors struggled against the sophomores who won the competition. At the main course of the day, the Bulldog football team struggled against Whiteford in a homecoming loss.
    YOUNG soccer players surived a chilly morning Saturday in Morenci’s PTO league. From the left is Emma Cordts, Wayne Corser, Carter and Levi Seitz, Briella York and Drew Joughin. Two more weeks of soccer remain for this season.
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    BOWEN BAUMGARTNER of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge constructed by the Tecumseh Boy Scout troop Sunday at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The bridge was one of many challenges, displays and games set up for the annual Youth Jamboree by the Michigan DNR. Additional photos on are the back page of this week’s Observer.
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    One of four senior candidates will be crowned the fall homecoming queen during half-time of this week’s Morenci-Whiteford football game. In the back row (left to right) is exchange student Kinga Vidor (her escort will be Caylob Alcock), seniors Alli VanBrandt (escorted by Sam Cool), Larissa Elliott (escorted by Clayton Borton), Samantha Wright (escorted by JJ Elarton) and Justis McCowan (escorted by Austin Gilson), and exchange student Rebecca Rosenberger (escorted by Garrett Smith). Front row freshman court member Allie Kaiser (escorted by Anthony Thomas), sophomore Marlee Blaker (escorted by Nate Elarton) and junior Cheyenne Stone (escorted by Dominick Sell).
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    GETTING READY—Jerad Gleckler pounds nails to secure a string of holiday lights on the side of the Wakefield Park concession stand while other members of the Volunteer Club and others hold them in place. The volunteers showed up Sunday afternoon to string lights at the park. The decorating project will continue this Sunday. Denise Walsh is in charge of the effort this year.
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Judge relates versions of John Skelton's stories 2011.08.11

Written by David Green.

skelton.sittingBy DAVID GREEN

Perhaps each version of John Skelton’s story gets a little closer to the truth.

In Lenawee County Circuit Court July 27, Judge Margaret Noe reviewed what Skelton has told investigators over the months since his three sons disappeared.

First came the story about giving his children to a mysterious woman named Joanne Taylor. That was followed by the report of a man named Virgil who arranged for the children to be taken away. Later, Skelton said that he was the one who drove away with the children and he gave clues to their location that he said were based on dreams.

After Judge Noe recounted Skelton’s admission that Joanne Taylor was fictional, Morenci Chief of Police Larry Weeks walked across the courtroom with a box of tissues for the boys’ mother, Tanya Zuvers, who sat weeping in the corner of the room with family members.

Skelton pled “no contest” to three counts of unlawful imprisonment—a plea the court accepted as a finding of guilt—relating to the disappearance of his three young sons last November.

Andrew, Alexander and Tanner disappeared from Skelton’s Morenci home on the day after Thanksgiving and haven’t been seen since.

“Do you have any questions about the rights I have given you?” asked Judge Noe.

Skelton, wearing an orange prison suit and orange plastic shoes, answered, “No, your honor.”

“Do you understand these rights?” she asked.

“Yes, your honor,” Skelton said.

In order to accept the “no contest” plea, Judge Noe said, she must find beyond reasonable doubt that defendant John Russell Skelton forcibly confined each of his children and interfered with their liberty.

Their mother had legal custody of the children, Judge Noe added, and their disappearance occurred after an agreed-upon holiday visit.

Judge Noe asked the attorneys and Skelton if she should read the police reports on which she based her findings. All three answered in the affirmative.

After an Amber Alert was issued for the missing children Nov. 27, Skelton told investigators he had given his children to a woman named Joanne Taylor whom he had met four or five years earlier. He said he intended to kill himself and did not want the children present.

“That story changed, however,” Judge Noe noted, “as in on Jan 17, 2011, John Skelton said that on November first, 2010, he met a man named Virgil in Niles, Michigan.”

Skelton told the man that he did not want his wife to take his children. Virgil said he would try to help.

Within a week, Skelton said, he found a manilla envelope in his mailbox with papers and business cards for United Foster Outreach, and a phone. Skelton said Virgil took some of those items later and Skelton burned other items.

“John Skelton links Virgil to Joanne Taylor,” Judge Noe said. “He adds another person named Elijah and another named Sue, and two children, Alex and Mary.

“He said there were a number of visits at his home and that arrangements were being made for his children to become accustomed to these people.”

Skelton claims the people showed up at his home Nov. 25 and brought some Amish-like coats for his sons to wear. He sent his children off with some blankets, saying that the children would fit into a new lifestyle. He said he put the children into a van and expected the group to provide him with a new telephone for coded communications.

“Later, John Skelton said he doesn’t know where his children are,” the judge continued. “He has said to say, ‘The children will hibernate until they graduate.’”

Skelton later told other investigators another version, the judge said. On the evening of Nov. 25, 2010, he said that he wrapped his children in blankets, placed a stuffed animal in each of their hands and drove them away.

He said the boys could be found in a two-story brick school house.

“Later he asked if the investigators  searched a park. Later again, he drew images from what he referenced as dreams and nightmares, saying the boys may be near or behind a Dumpster. He asked the investigators to locate the contents of a specific Dumpster to find the children’s stuff, blankets, stuffed animals, perhaps the boys themselves.”

Later Skelton acknowledged that he did not contest that Joanne Taylor was fictional and that he created e-mail messages to make it look as though she had written.

“Approximately one week before the children disappeared,” Judge Noe said, “his internet records show research on the topic of how to break a neck.”

On Nov. 26, Skelton took some personal property of the boys, including their winter coats and toothbrushes, to his aunt’s house. He said he didn’t need them anymore and he didn’t want the boys’ mother, Tanya, to have the memories.

Judge Noe concluded by saying that Skelton did not want his wife to have custody of the three boys and so he restrained and confined Andrew, Alexander and Tanner in a location that has been and continues to be a secret, and a finding of guilt is accepted.

Sentencing is scheduled at 8:15 a.m. Sept. 15. Judge Noe said Skelton is not be given a copy of the pre-sentencing report. Public defender John Glaser can discuss in detail the report, but not give him a copy.

Plea deal

Sentencing would keep Skelton in prison for a maximum of 15 years, however, sentencing guidelines will shape the sentence and imprisonment will likely be less, said Chief Weeks. 

Although Skelton was charged with three counts, the unlawful imprisonment charges will be served concurrently, Weeks said, as are most crimes.

The Detroit Free Press consulted legal experts who agreed that prosecutors took a prudent approach with the plea agreement. Although the plea dismissed kidnapping charges—carrying the possibility of a life sentence—law enforcement officials will have time to continue their investigation of the case while Skelton is in jail.

Chief Weeks announced in December that the case changed from a missing persons investigation to one of murder. Rather than risk losing in court with the existing evidence, investigators will continue to build a murder case.

Chief Weeks and county prosecuting attorney Jonathan Poer made an announcement last week stating the plea deal does not hamper the investigation and they will continue to actively pursue final resolution.

“We just consider this one more step toward everyone’s goal of fully resolving this case,” the release read.

The Zuvers family gave its support of the action. They thank people for their continued support, said family friend Kathye Herrera, and remind people that it’s not over until the boys are found.

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