A.J. Starring Receives 11 Months In Jail, Harsh Probation Terms For Stealing From & Trying To Kill Grandparents; Judge Says One Probation Violation Means He's Likely Off To Prison
Allegan County Chief Circuit Judge Margaret Bakker put her hand on her forehead and shook her head slowly as she read the criminal history report on the 19-year-old convicted man standing in front of her for sentencing on Monday.
Andrew John (A.J.) Starring, a Saugatuck High School graduate two years ago, who lived with his mother in South Haven, was a disturbingly messed up young man.
The police, probation and court records Judge Bakker read through gave her insight into the many legal, physical, mental and drug problems the thin, ponytailed teenager before her - outfitted in gray-and-white-striped jail attire along with steel waist and wrist shackles - had been and is faced with.
Starring’s personal and criminal history is long and frightening: an admitted illegal drug user with a cocaine addiction; a long-time drug dealer; an embezzler; a thief who brazenly stole tens of thousands of dollars from the very grandparents who tried to help him through his troubled youth; an attempted murderer who tried to kill those very same grandparents; a liar; and a young man who, even during his court sentencing, tried to weasel his way out of a prison sentence by downplaying his crimes.
Judge Bakker, known for both her compassion and ability to see through the usual rhetorical, self-pitying spins and sob stories thrown her way during sentencing days in court by the hundreds of both first-time offenders and the hard-core criminals who would never escape the revolving door of prisons in the years to come, appeared genuinely troubled with Starring’s case.
The crimes he was arrested and charged with are incredibly serious: burglary, forced entry of a residence (home invasion), arson of a residence endangering life, larceny, possession of a firearm in commission of a crime, and assault involving attempted murder.
The prosecutor’s plea bargain agreement, allowing Starring to plead to 2nd degree arson (willful burning of a dwelling or its contents), called for a possible 20-year prison sentence.
Well aware that her job as a circuit court jurist is not only to punish the offender, but protect society and the victims from further threats as well, Bakker wrestled with the punishment she would give the young man now standing beside his lawyer.
There was no such hesitation on the part of the assistant prosecutor handling the case - Judith H. Astle - who thought prison time was an appropriate sentence for the man who obviously harbored feelings of hatred and disdain for his own family members who tried to help him.
She noted Starring’s lack of remorse, attempts at trying to manipulate the police and court system and his likelihood of re-offending.
Some of those very family members were in court Monday to hear the sentencing of their grandson, brother, cousin and nephew.
That morning, just prior to the sentencing, Assistant Prosecutor Astle spoke with some of the family members who chose not to take the opportunity to address the judge during sentencing.
But apparently still concerned for A.J., they simply asked Astle to ask the judge to make drug treatment and counseling part of his sentencing requirements if he was imprisoned.
When the judge asked if he had anything to say before sentencing, Starring rambled, “I don’t get where I didn’t show remorse. When they (sheriff deputies) brought me in I was bawling my eyes out. I am enrolled in college. I’m trying to better myself. I was physically and verbally abused as a child. I need help. I’m ready to get the help that I need. I’ve been in maximum security with people who don’t show remorse.”
Bakker didn’t let Starring off the hook. Reading from the reports, she noted that during recorded conversations he had with people while incarcerated, “You said this was all a joke.”
The judge noted that Starring said he felt the arson charge was “trumped up. It’s also clear you have a cocaine addiction.”
Lamely, Starring responded, “I tried to put the fire out”. That was the same fire he started in his grandparents home Oct. 9, 2015 when he snuck in wearing a mask and undersized boots in an effort to later throw police off his trail, while he jimmied open and rifled through a desk and stole almost $75,000 of his grandparents’ money.
Those are the same grandparents who detectives say were sleeping upstairs in their home when Starring spread waste oil and tiki torch fuel all over a floor and bed and lit it in an attempt to burn down the house and kill his family members while he high-tailed it away in the dark of night.
Those are the same grandparents that Starring told his mother - and his mother subsequently told detectives after the first failed arson/murder attempt - that he was going to break back into his grandparents’ home, shoot and kill them with one of his rifles, scurry back to his South Haven home and burn the clothes he wore during the murders, throw the murder weapon into the river, and then scurry over to his girlfriend’s home in Kalamazoo so as to create an alibi for himself when the bodies were discovered.
As far as Starring admitting to his cocaine addiction, Bakker noted that he had told his probation agent that he didn’t need any help with that.
“Your behavior is extremely dangerous and potentially could result in significant harm to people who took care of you your entire life,” said Judge Bakker.
Despite all the bizarre and dangerous actions of Starring, Judge Bakker finally said she had decided to give him one chance of staying out of prison, but her sentencing imposed some extremely stringent restrictions and rules that he would have to follow or immediately face a trip to one of the Michigan Department of Corrections’ state prisons.
Saying she was going with an alternate sentencing recommendation than that of the county probation department, Judge Bakker ordered Starring to continue to be incarcerated in the county jail for 11 months with 102 days credit for time already served. (He was arrested in October 2015). He will remain jailed for about another eight months.
When he gets out, Starring will then be placed on five year’s probation; he must wear an electronic tethering device for the first 12 months so authorities can monitor his whereabouts; he must not take any drugs or drink any alcohol; he must never be in possession of any drugs; he must attend and successfully complete alcohol and drug rehab sessions; he must pay the full cost of attending those meetings; he must follow all outpatient guidelines imposed; he must undergo a complete psychological evaluation; he must waive all confidentiality rules with his counselors; he must admit to any employer or anyone who inquires that he is now a convicted felon; he is now subject to any number of warrant-less searches by police; once released he must remain at his home from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day and night; he must provide authorities a DNA sample; he must not have any contact with his grandparents, Linus & Janice Starring; he cannot go near any school grounds; he must turn in his driver’s license; and he must pay all court costs, supervision fees, and restitution to his grandparents.
Several authorities familiar with the case say they feel it is unlikely Starring will successfully complete these stringent probation terms and he will eventually be imprisoned.