Times Herald Jonathon Kaled and Frank Kuecken: The Long Road Home
April 23, 2004:  Prosecutor in Kaled-Kuecken Case Indicted for Taking Bribes
Port Huron, Michigan

April 23, 2004

Mello murder suspect's mom not judging

Cheryl Stepnioski is giving indicted Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga the benefit of the doubt despite his insistence her son was among those responsible for the 2000 slaying of a New Baltimore teen.

Marlinga, the Macomb County prosecutor for nearly 20 years, was indicted Thursday on charges of conspiracy, fraud, campaign violations and mail fraud stemming from his 2002 run for Congress.

Prior to running, he prosecuted the Justin Mello homicide in which Stepnioski's son, Jonathon Kaled, was among those initially charged but later released when two other men confessed to the killing.

"I have to admit I was surprised," she said about the indictments. "But you're innocent until proven guilty."

Mello, 16, worked at Mancino's Pizza & Grinders in New Baltimore when he was robbed, led into a walk-in cooler and shot execution-style in the back of the head.

Kaled, Frank "Neal" Kuecken and Matthew Daniels were arrested in connection with the murder. Charges against Daniels were dropped quickly because of lack of evidence, but Kaled and Kuecken were incarcerated for six months pending their trials.

While they were in jail, police found the murder weapon after Kentucky police arrested David Baumann of Chesterfield Township and Dennis Bryan of Fair Haven in connection with a 37-state crime spree.

However, authorities said the two weren't connected with Mello's murder.

Kaled and Kuecken eventually were released and charges were dropped after Baumann and Bryan confessed to the killing.

During their incarceration, Stepnioski and the mothers of Daniels and Kuecken traveled to Kentucky and Virginia to find answers on their own.

On that trip, they were told Macomb prosecutors had statements that would have helped prove Kaled and Kuecken were innocent.

"I've always thought something went really horribly wrong," Stepnioski said. "If we hadn't gone down South, I don't know what would've happened."

Kuecken was killed in 2002 in an unrelated incident.

Because her son was wrongly jailed for a crime, Stepnioski knows the importance of keeping an open mind, something she'll do with Marlinga's case.

"The way things were, I wish people would've looked at it as you're innocent until proven guilty," she said.

"You can be accused and accused, but that doesn't mean you did it."

Cheryl Stepnioski
Cheryl Stepnioski

Jonathon Kaled
Jonathon Kaled

Frank Kuecken
Frank Kuecken

Police/Prosecutor Misconduct
Truth in Justice