After prosecutor's misconduct in sexual assault case, former CMU student has new plea deal
Update: January 17, 2020 at 6:24 p.m.
Former Central Michigan University student Ian Elliott pleaded no contest to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct on Friday.
That's a lesser charge than what Elliott initially pleaded to last summer.
But the Michigan Attorney General's Office agreed to let Elliott withdraw his previous plea.
That's because the former prosecutor in the case, the former assistant attorney general, had an inappropriate relationship with one of Elliott's victims.
Elliott is currently in Isabella County jail. He'll be re-sentenced next month.
Original post, January 15, 2020
Ian Elliott, a former student body president at Central Michigan University convicted of sexually assaulting a fellow student, likely won’t serve out the rest of his one-year sentence in prison. Instead, he’s filing a motion requesting to withdraw his plea entirely (as reported by the Morning Sun,) vacate his sentence, and take a new, more lenient plea deal offered by the Michigan attorney general’s office.
The deal: Elliott will plead “no contest” to criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree (rather than his current conviction of CSC third degree.) Elliott’s defense team and the AG’s office have also worked out a new sentencing agreement, pending a judge’s approval: rather than serving the approximately seven months left in his prison sentence, Elliott will be moved to the Isabella County jail until a sentencing hearing in February. At that point, the agreement has him receiving probation and a year in county jail, minus the time already served and credit for good behavior, leaving him with roughly just five months left in the jail.
“We really had only one option to keep Elliott incarcerated – and we took that option,” says Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Attorney General’s office.
Those choices were limited, she says, because former Assistant Attorney General Brian Kolodziej mishandled the case. Kolodziej resigned in September after admitting to having a romantic relationship with one of Elliott’s victims, Rachel Wilson.
Wilson, who has said Kolodziej made violent threats of self-harm during their relationship, declined to comment on the new plea deal.
Landrea Blackmore, the second victim in the Elliott case, agreed to have her charges against him dropped as part of Elliott’s initial plea deal this summer.
“We consulted with both Rachel Wilson (through her attorney, as she directed) as well as Landrea Blackmore before resolving this case,” says Rossman-McKinney. “The plea – which we recommended – was preferred to an outright dismissal, which we fully expected the defense attorney to pursue. Given [former Assistant Attorney General] Brian Kolodziej’s behaviors related to the prosecution, CSC4 [fourth degree criminal sexual conduct] was the only option we believed would resolve the case by way of a plea.”
Blackmore said Wednesday she’d been bracing herself for the charges against Elliott to be dismissed altogether. “At this point, honestly, I think I’m just glad that we’ve got something. I don’t think we ever got true justice in this case, and I don’t think we ever will. I am done spending time and energy and emotions on Ian Elliott, because he doesn’t deserve it.”
How a rape case unraveled after four long years
Wilson first accused Elliott of assaulting her in 2016, when they were both students at Central Michigan University. The county prosecutor at the time charged Elliott, and a preliminary exam hearing determined there was enough evidence to move to trial.
But, in a controversial move, an interim county prosecutor dropped the case. The student newspaper, Central Michigan Life, wrote a powerful profile about Wilson and her frustrations with the justice system in 2018, and the Michigan attorney general’s office (then run by former AG Bill Schuette) took up the case.
The prosecutor in charge: Brian Kolodziej, a passionate, charming attorney who had been an actor in a previous career. For months, it appeared Kolodziej was building a strong case against Elliott, even bringing new charges against him on behalf of a second woman, Landrea Blackmore, in 2019.
Then, in June of 2019, Ian Elliott agreed to plead “no contest” to third degree criminal sexual conduct. On August 2nd, he was sentenced to one year in prison.
In September, Wilson says she talked to a counselor about her concerns about Kolodziej, including her own safety in their relationship. Unbeknownst to her, that counselor reported those concerns to the police, she says, who in turn alerted the Michigan attorney general on September 5th.
“The next morning Mr. Kolodziej admitted to engaging in the relationship and subsequently resigned from his employment with the Department of Attorney General in lieu of immediate termination," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement released September 10."The MSP has opened a criminal investigation and I have informed them that my team will fully cooperate with all elements of their investigation. I have also requested the Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council’s prompt appointment of another prosecutorial agency to assist in the event MSP requires prosecutorial or investigative services."
Wilson has previously said she had no idea any of this had happened, until Kolodziej called her, frantic, on the day the AG's office was notified. “What did you give them?” he asked her, over and over again.
A public scandal, and an internal investigation
Once the news became public, additional concerns were raised about how Kolodziej and the AG's office had handled this and a separate sexual abuse case.
A previous supervisor of Kolodziej’s, from back when he worked at the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, told Michigan Radio that Kolodziej had raised several red flags during his time there, including being “flirtatious” with victims in his cases and violating forensic interview protocol. The former supervisor, Nicole Becker Blank, says she ultimately asked for Kolodziej to be removed from the sex crimes unit, though Macomb County Prosector Eric Smith denies that’s why he changed Kolodziej’s role.
And it emerged that one of Kolodziej’s investigators in the Ian Elliott case, Special Agent Karen Fairley, allegedly complained about Kolodziej’s handling of the case, saying he was trying to “take over the case” and “do her job for her.” Joe Barberi, Elliott’s defense attorney, says he repeatedly complained about Kolodziej’s conduct while the case was underway.
Then, in November, the AG’s office also dropped all criminal charges in that separate sex abuse case of Kolodziej’s, saying that the special agent in that case hadn’t been entirely truthful on the witness stand.
While the AG’s full report hasn’t yet been released, reports in The Detroit News say internal investigators found that several employees, including former Chief of Staff Laura Moody, knew about issues with Kolodziej’s handling of cases.
Ian Elliott’s defense attorney, Joe Barberi, released a statement on Wednesday, thanking Nessel for her “transparency, including the sharing of 240 pages of the Attorney General’s Internal Investigation into the improper behavior of former Assistant Attorney Brian Kolodziej.”
Barberi says both he and the AG’s office believe Kolodziej’s misconduct went well beyond his inappropriate relationship with Wilson. “In reaching this resolution of charges, all parties agreed that the tampering of witnesses and the withholding of exculpatory evidence by former Assistant Attorney Brian Kolodziej, denied Ian Elliott due process, and made the obtaining of any future fair trial for Mr. Elliott problematic.”
On Friday, Elliott will be transported from the prison to the courthouse for a hearing to formally withdraw his initial plea, and re-enter a plea to the reduced sentence. His new sentencing hearing is scheduled for February.